Follow-Up Audit of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Forensic Science Laboratories Workload Management
Audit Report 06-15
Office of the Inspector General
The following findings, recommendations, and management responses to the recommendations are extracted from the following Department of the Treasury, Office of Inspector General, audit report: CRIMINAL ENFORCEMENT: ATF Forensic Science Laboratories Need to Improve Workload Management, Report Number OIG-01-068, April 30, 2001. The ATF’s response to the Treasury OIG report, which was included as Appendix 3 in the report, was dated March 27, 2001, and discussed management actions taken by the ATF as of that date.
Finding 1: Laboratories Did Not Always Provide Timely Service
Management Comment. ATF management agreed the laboratories must be adequately staffed with qualified personnel. In response to this recommendation, ATF management:
ATF management indicated its efforts have resulted in an overall reduction of backlog cases. Examination backlog was reduced 10 percent in FY 1999 and an additional 13 percent in FY 2000.
The ATF Director should ensure laboratory managers coordinate the amount of outside work performed by laboratory personnel to limit the negative effect on the laboratory’s workload.
Management Comment. ATF management indicated the duties of forensic chemists and examiners are not limited to examining cases and providing expert testimony on their findings. As technical experts, they are responsible for continuing their professional development through training and interaction with peers outside of ATF. They are also developing new methods of analysis: training others, both inside and outside the ATF; and providing assistance at significant crime scenes.
To ensure laboratory personnel are only assigned outside work that is of strategic importance to their development or ATF’s mission, ATF management has:
ATF management indicated these changes have reduced the number of days laboratory employees spend on outside work, as shown in the following chart:
Finding 2: Laboratories Need to Prioritize Their Workload
Management Comment. ATF management indicated Field Operations officials are responsible for determining whether Special Agent service requests are in line with the ATF’s investigative priorities. However, Laboratory Services has taken steps to assist in this process by recommending a new priority system for forensic examinations. Laboratory Services developed this system by working jointly with agents, laboratory examiners, and a cross-section of the field divisions. The new priority system is one part of several proposed improvements, including a new Evidence Transmittal Form that could be completed electronically, and an Evidence Submission Checklist to be used by submitting Special Agents. These innovations were nearing completion and will soon be reviewed by Field Operations.
Management Comment. The Director of Laboratory Services and the Assistant Director of Science and Technology met with the 23 field divisions’ directors in November 2000. At that time they discussed the following issues: (1) agents’ failures to include a Report of Investigation with evidence submissions, (2) cases being marked as expedite without evidence of supervisory review or proper justification, and (3) the mislabeling of evidence exhibits submitted. The field division directors indicated laboratory supervisors should contact agent supervisors immediately when any of the above issues were encountered. Laboratory supervisors were planning to follow up on this advice.
Laboratory managers initiated two other actions in this fiscal year  in their efforts to educate submitting agents. First, the Agents Guide To The ATF Laboratories: (1) is being distributed to all new agents training classes, (2) has been placed on the ATF Intranet, and (3) will be added to the upcoming edition of the ATF Reference Library CD-ROM. Second, laboratory managers have developed an advanced training program for agents regarding the collection and submission of evidence to the laboratory. It was scheduled to be held on-site at three divisions during FY 2001.
Management believed that by improving procedures and providing more education to submitting agents, the laboratories would realize additional improvement in case turnaround times and ultimately, reduce case backlogs.
Finally, the pending acquisition of a modern Laboratory Information Management System to replace the outdated FACETS will permit the automated, regular exchange of case information between agents and the laboratory. This will allow continuous updates in status and immediate notification of changes in priority.
Finding 3: Laboratories Need to Ensure Case File Management Controls are Followed
Management Comment. ATF management indicated the audit report correctly noted the laboratories were not complying with Laboratory Services Policies and Procedures Guidelines [Guidelines] in some instances. The [Guidelines] were written for the purpose of establishing standard best practices for laboratory operations. If the laboratories establish a new practice or improve a current practice, the [Guidelines] must be updated.
As a result of the [Treasury] audit, the ATF has taken corrective action to ensure evidence control cards are placed in all case jackets promptly when laboratory reports are completed and cases are closed. They have also taken corrective action to ensure examiner hours are recorded. The ATF addressed adherence to this standard, and all other [Guidelines] in its annual internal review team audits of the three forensic science laboratories.
In addition, ATF management indicated the acquisition of [a laboratory information management system] to replace the outdated FACETS will permit the development of accurate, meaningful reports that track examiner hours. The new [laboratory information management system] will also eliminate the complex flow of documents that is often the cause of incomplete files cited in the report.
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