|| Assistant Inspector General for Audit
|| Follow-up Audit of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms
Explosives Forensic Science Laboratories' Workload Management
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) appreciates the opportunity to respond to the recommendations from the Office of the Inspector General's (OIG) above-cited draft report. Although we were previously aware of and were acting to improve the areas included in your findings, we appreciate this independent evaluation process to help us improve our ability to effectively plan and manage our resources more efficiently.
In general, ATF concurs with the findings and recommendations of your report and will address each recommendation in a corrective actions report. Our responses to your recommendations are as follows:
Recommendation 1 - Develop and implement a plan to eliminate the backlog in each regional forensic science laboratory.
ATF Response - We agree that a plan should be developed and implemented to address the backlog of forensic cases. In addition, we believe that this plan should address meeting the minimum turnaround time of 30 days on all cases. This plan should take into account ATF staffing needed, contract staffing needed, possible process improvements, and staff demands outside of forensic examination. ATF will develop and implement a plan to address the backlog of forensic cases. This plan will be fully implemented by February 1, 2007.
Recommendation 2 - Develop and implement a plan to manage unusually high incoming workloads that are associated with resource-intensive cases.
ATF Response - We agree that a formal plan should be developed and implemented to manage workloads from resource-intensive cases. Laboratory Services has such a plan and has implemented it on several occasions (e-g., the sniper investigation). This plan involves redirecting cases from the impacted laboratory to one of the other two laboratories. In addition, needed personnel can be detailed to the impacted laboratory from one of the other two laboratories. Laboratory Services will refine and implement a plan to manage workload increases associated with resource-intensive cases. This plan will be implemented by October 1, 2006.
Recommendation 3 - Develop agreements and contracts with other laboratories to perform forensic work to provide support when the demand for examinations is unusually high and to help eliminate the backlog.
ATF Response - We agree that such agreements and contracts with other laboratories to provide forensic support to Laboratory Services would be beneficial. ATF does not agree that this is a corrective action that should be pursued at this time. The OIG report shows that most, if not all, public forensic laboratories face significant backlogs. The OIG recommendation would also require ATF to overcome significant accreditation issues. This is made more difficult since our laboratories are pursuing international accreditation in 2007. Laboratory Services is currently using contract forensic examiners as technicians to process evidence. Due to quality assurance demands, they must work under the direct guidance of an ATF examiner. As a result, the impact that they have on the backlog is not as great as hiring another ATF examiner.
ATF will continue to look for opportunities to use contracts or agreements with other laboratories. Laboratory Services will continue to supplement ATF staffing with contract personnel when feasible.
Recommendation 4 - Develop and implement a priority system for managing all incoming evidence submissions. The system should support the ATF investigative priorities and establish realistic time standards for completion.
ATF Response - We agree that the plan to implement a priority system for managing all incoming evidence submissions should be completed. The system we have developed depends upon the supervisory special agent to ensure that the priority requested is in line with ATF investigative priorities. The system we have developed then requires the forensic examiner and the submitting agent to negotiate a realistic time for completion based on the priority and complexity of the case.
ATF will implement this basic priority system with the implementation of the new Evidence Transmittal Form (ATF F 7120.7A). This will be accomplished by July 1, 2006.
Recommendation 5 - Ensure that special agents are educated on the new priority system and comply with its requirements.
ATF Response - In conjunction with the deployment of the new priority system, ATF will ensure that both the Office of Field Operations and Laboratory Services provide training in its use. ATF will develop and provide appropriate training for the users of the new priority system. This training will be accomplished at least 30 days before the implementation of the new priority system.
Recommendation 6 - Develop and implement a plan to reduce the time it takes to fill examiner vacancies.
ATF Response - We agree that a formal plan needs to be developed and implemented to reduce the time it takes to fill examiner vacancies. Laboratory Services has been meeting with the Human Resources Division weekly to monitor the progress in filling examiner vacancies and to address problems in the process.
ATF will expand its current effort to include the development and implementation of a formal plan to reduce the time it takes to fill examiner vacancies. This plan will be implemented by June 1, 2006.
Recommendation 7 - Revise the questionnaire being sent to customers by requesting more specific feedback about the impact of the forensic analysis on the progress of investigations and outcomes of cases.
ATF Response - We agree that the Customer Feed Back Form (ATF F 7110.12) should be revised. We also agree that the revision should try to capture information about the significance that the forensic analysis played in the investigation. However, we do not agree that the questionnaire feedback should include information about the outcome of the case. First, the forensic report should be received by the special agent early in the investigation, so the outcome of the case is generally not known. Second, the objective of the forensic scientist is to provide quality and timely examination of the evidence submitted. This is done without regard to the guilt or innocence of a suspect or the final outcome of the case. The forensic analysis is but one small part in determining the outcome of a case. The investigation and prosecution are far more important to the case. ATF will develop a new questionnaire (paper and/or electronic) that will provide improved feedback information on the performance of each laboratory and the examiner associated with each laboratory report of examination. This new questionnaire will be implemented by December 1, 2006.
Should you have any questions or require additional information concerning this response, please contact Ms. Carol Campbell, Audit Liaison, at (202) 927-8276.