An Office of Inspector General (OIG) review has found the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inconsistently implemented seizure and administrative forfeiture authorities under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA) in FYs 2014 through 2018. During this time, DHS seized and forfeited about $4.6 billion for deposit into the Treasury Forfeiture Fund.
Congress enacted CAFRA to provide uniform procedures for civil forfeitures and increase safeguards for individuals whose property has been seized by the federal government. However, OIG found DHS components used inconsistent processes for administrative forfeitures under CAFRA. Specifically, the watchdog found inconsistencies in the forms used to notify property owners and the process for responding to claims. The review also found that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inappropriately used waivers to extend deadlines for responding to claims.
OIG says the inconsistencies occurred, in part, because components interpreted CAFRA differently, but also because DHS did not designate an office responsible for overseeing administrative forfeitures across the Department. Additionally, the watchdog found DHS did not establish department-wide policy and instead allowed components to use different policies and processes to guide administrative forfeiture activities.
Without proper oversight, OIG says DHS may be unaware of noncompliance and possible abuse of seizure and forfeiture authorities. Further, DHS may risk losing the public’s trust and exposing the Department to costly litigation.
OIG recommends DHS develop and implement a department-wide structure and designate an office to manage and oversee forfeiture activities across DHS; and also develop department-wide policies and procedures.
DHS disagreed with the first recommendation, stating that there is not adequate justification for creating a structure with a designated office to manage and oversee forfeiture activities department-wide. However it agreed with the second recommendation and agreed to develop a department-wide directive to ensure compliant CAFRA implementation; provide notices and forms that conform to federal best practices; and ensure consistent practices for managing responses to property owners, while taking into account the different forfeiture authorities of each component. DHS estimates this directive will be developed by August 31, 2021.