ATF Explosives Detection K-9s are on the scene to assist Austin Police with evidence recovery at the scene of package bombings in Austin, Texas. (ATF photo)

GAO: ATF and U.S. Marshals Service Can Further Strengthen Controls Over Employee Misconduct Processes

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Marshals Service collectively investigated about 3,900 allegations of employee misconduct in FY 2014-2018. About half of the investigations found that the allegations were unsubstantiated. In the others, the most common offenses included poor judgment at ATF and general violations of policy or procedure at the Marshals Service.

Both agencies could strengthen the management of their employee misconduct processes. The Government Accountability Office’s 7 recommendations to the agencies include better monitoring of their misconduct processes and ensuring that supervisory reviews of investigations are documented.

From fiscal years 2014 through 2018, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) collectively investigated about 3,900 allegations of employee misconduct, as shown in the table below. About one-half of these investigations were closed with no disciplinary action because the components found that the allegations were unsubstantiated. For allegations that were substantiated by an investigation, the most common ATF offenses were poor judgment and failure to adequately secure property, while the most common USMS offenses were general violations of policy or procedure and failure to follow instruction. The most common outcomes for both ATF and USMS substantiated investigations were discipline including suspensions of up to 14 days and lesser penalties such as verbal or written warnings. During this period, ATF and USMS investigated over 300 allegations of management retaliation, with few resulting in discipline.

ATF and USMS have developed some internal controls for managing their employee misconduct investigation and disciplinary processes, but have not consistently documented or monitored key control activities. For example:

  • USMS policy requires supervisory review of district and division investigations, but the agency has not consistently documented this control in accordance with policy. ATF and USMS also lack policy for verifing the accuracy and completeness of information in employee misconduct systems. Ensuring supervisory review is documented as required and developing policy for verifying information in misconduct systems would provide greater assurance that controls are operating as intended.
  • ATF and USMS have established policies and goals related to timeliness in completing various types of employee misconduct investigations (e.g., within 120 days). However, ATF has not established performance measures to monitor progress toward meeting the goals. USMS has measures to monitor timeliness for some types of investigations, but not for others. Establishing measures to monitor timeliness of investigations would provide more complete information to ATF and USMS managers responsible for oversight.
  • ATF and USMS have established oversight mechanisms, such as internal management reviews, to monitor certain aspects of the components’ operations, such as financial operations. However, ATF and USMS have not fully used these mechanisms to monitor internal controls related to employee misconduct processes, which would help ATF and USMS management ensure that controls are implemented as required by policy.

GAO is making seven recommendations, including that USMS ensure supervisory review is documented; and that ATF and USMS develop policy for verifying system information, establish measures to monitor the timeliness of investigations, and improve monitoring of employee misconduct processes. DOJ concurred with GAO recommendations.

Read more at GAO

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