Follow-Up Audit of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Forensic Science Laboratories Workload Management

Audit Report 06-15
March 2006
Office of the Inspector General

Appendix I
Objectives, Scope, and Methodology


The objectives of the audit were to determine whether the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) forensic laboratories were: (1) providing timely service, (2) prioritizing their workload effectively, and (3) ensuring case file management controls were followed.

Scope and Methodology

The audit was performed in accordance with the Government Auditing Standards issued by the Comptroller General of the United States, and included tests and procedures necessary to accomplish the objectives.

This audit was performed as a follow-up to a Department of the Treasury, Office of Inspector General (OIG) Report OIG-01-068, CRIMINAL ENFORCEMENT: ATF Forensic Science Laboratories Need to Improve Workload Management, issued on April 30, 2001. Neither the Treasury OIG nor the DOJ OIG evaluated the operational efficiency with which the laboratories processed evidence.

Generally, the audit focused on the regional laboratories that analyze and maintain custody of evidence submitted by ATF field divisions. We performed fieldwork at the following locations.

Office of Laboratory Services
Forensic Science Laboratory-Washington
Forensic Science Laboratory-Atlanta
Forensic Science Laboratory-San Francisco    
Ammendale, MD
Ammendale, MD
Atlanta, GA
Walnut Creek, CA

The audit generally covered the period October 1, 2003, through May 13, 2005, the date of the extract we obtained from the Office of Laboratory Services’ management information system. In addition, we analyzed some additional data regarding ATF operations for FY 2005 as a whole.

We interviewed officials from the ATF’s Office of Laboratory Services and managers at each of the three forensic science laboratories we visited.

To obtain background information related to the ATF’s performance of forensic services, we:

  • reviewed information on the ATF’s mission, its laboratories, services, customers, and strategic plan;

  • reviewed audit and inspection reports issued previously to identify findings and recommendations related to the ATF forensic laboratories, and determined the status of issues addressed in the Department of the Treasury, OIG Audit Report OIG-01-068;

  • reviewed the ATF’s Laboratory Services Policies and Procedures Guidelines;

  • assessed the professional accreditation status of the forensic science laboratories through interviews and review of documentation and inspection reports; and

  • reviewed the ATF’s guidelines for Special Agents about evidence handling and communication with the laboratories.

To assess the timeliness of laboratory services and overall customer satisfaction, we:

  • analyzed data to determine turnaround times from the receipt of exhibits by laboratories to the issuance of the laboratory report(s);

  • analyzed data on factors previously reported as having contributed to processing delays (These factors include backlog, resource demands for high-visibility investigations, hiring lag, and outside duties for laboratory examiners such as crime scene assistance, court appearances, and training support.);

  • reviewed customer satisfaction cards on file at each of the three forensic science laboratories;

  • surveyed a judgmental sample of Special Agents on laboratory examinations that took more than 180 days to complete to determine the effect these processing delays had on the investigations; and

  • questioned Special Agents as to their overall satisfaction with the services provided by the laboratory.

To assess the effectiveness of the ATF’s laboratory examination system of priorities, we:

  • reviewed ATF policy and procedures regarding the assignment of priorities to exhibits forwarded to the forensic laboratories for examination; and

  • reviewed case files at each laboratory for a statistical sample taken from the ATF’s Forensic Automated Case and Exam Tracking System (FACETS) to determine whether the priorities assigned exhibits were adequately supported, consistent with ATF policy, and properly authorized.

To assess the effectiveness of management controls over laboratory case files, we:

  • reviewed ATF policy and procedures on laboratory case files, and

  • reviewed case files at each laboratory for a statistical sample taken from FACETS to determine whether evidence control cards were prepared on each evidence submission and whether laboratory personnel had documented the hours spent examining exhibits and preparing laboratory reports on the evidence control cards.

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