Resource Management of United States Attorneys' Offices

Audit Report 09-03
November 2008
Office of the Inspector General

Executive Summary

U.S. Attorneys are the principal litigators for the United States government and oversee the operations of the 94 United States Attorneys’ Offices (USAO) located throughout the United States and its territories.1 The USAOs are responsible for investigating and prosecuting individuals who violate U.S. criminal laws, representing and defending the United States in civil litigation (including debt collection), and handling criminal and civil appeals.

The Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA) acts as a liaison between the Department of Justice (DOJ or the Department) and the U.S. Attorneys by forwarding direction and guidance from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General to the USAOs. EOUSA also provides management oversight and administrative support to the USAOs, which includes allocating resources among USAOs and maintaining USAO resource-related and casework databases.

The U.S. Attorneys are responsible for handling litigation involving a wide variety of criminal and civil matters. Examples of their criminal responsibilities include narcotics trafficking, terrorism-related offenses, and public corruption. Examples of their civil responsibilities include bankruptcy, foreclosure, and medical malpractice matters. Given this broad spectrum of responsibilities, U.S. Attorneys operate with a significant level of autonomy in determining where to focus their office’s prosecutorial efforts within the framework of the national priorities established by the Attorney General. The number and types of matters handled by each USAO varies because of the specific problems facing each jurisdiction.

As of April 21, 2008, the USAOs employed 5,381 attorneys and 5,921 support personnel. The USAOs and EOUSA had a combined fiscal year (FY) 2008 budget of $1.755 billion. According to EOUSA officials, when including reimbursable funding the total budget managed by EOUSA was approximately $2 billion.

OIG Audit Approach

This Office of the Inspector General (OIG) audit examined the allocation of personnel resources among USAOs. The audit also reviewed the criminal and civil areas to which USAO attorneys were allocated and utilized, as well as the number and types of matters being addressed by the 94 USAOs across the country. The objectives of this audit were to: (1) examine the accuracy and completeness of the data regarding USAO resource utilization and cases, as well as to assess the process by which personnel resources are allocated among USAOs; (2) determine the allocation and utilization of attorneys within USAOs; and (3) determine the changes in USAO casework from FY 2003 through FY 2007.

In conducting this audit, we analyzed EOUSA data related to the allocation of attorneys to USAOs, the actual utilization of these attorneys by USAOs, and the cases worked by USAOs. We interviewed the EOUSA Director, as well as senior management officials within the Director’s Office and other staffs or divisions of EOUSA regarding the resource allocation process, the cases worked by USAOs, and the various data systems maintained by EOUSA. In general, our audit covered the period from FYs 2003 through 2007. Appendix I contains a further description of our audit objectives, scope, and methodology.

Results in Brief

Our audit found that although funding and authorized full‑time equivalents (FTE) for EOUSA and the USAOs increased during our 5‑year review period, USAOs have experienced a significant gap between allocated attorney FTEs and the number of FTEs that the USAOs are actually utilizing.2 EOUSA attributes this significant gap to rising expenses and budget constraints. Further, the average number of cases handled per USAO attorney FTE increased from FYs 2003 to 2007.

We also determined that the process used by EOUSA and the USAOs to allocate personnel resources has weaknesses. Specifically, EOUSA does not have reliable and specific data to make fully informed resource allocation decisions and to use in reporting statistical data to others, including to the Attorney General and Congress. According to EOUSA officials, several attempts have been made to develop ways to better allocate resources among USAOs, including the most recent effort performed by the Resource Allocation Working Group (RAWG).3 However, EOUSA has not been able to develop an objective process for determining the appropriate staffing levels of USAOs, nor has it been able to develop a method for reallocating attorney resources among USAOs.

We found that EOUSA does not routinely perform comprehensive reviews of attorney utilization or the types and number of USAO cases and instead has relied on infrequent reviews of this information to determine the efficiency and effectiveness of USAO operations. We believe that EOUSA should perform analyses similar to the ones we present in our report to ensure that it has the most accurate and up-to-date information possible when making its management decisions.

We concluded that weaknesses in the process for allocating personnel resources to USAOs are mainly attributable to three issues: (1) the lack of an objective staffing model, (2) the use of incomplete and inaccurate data when making resource planning and allocation decisions, and (3) EOUSA’s difficulty in reallocating existing resources between offices.

EOUSA officials stated that they have made several attempts over the years to objectively determine the resource needs of the USAOs. However, they also acknowledged that these efforts have been unsuccessful in creating a reliable and objective formula to determine the appropriate staffing levels of USAOs.

In addition, to assess USAOs’ resource needs and to allocate new positions, EOUSA relies in part on personnel resource utilization data and casework data that is accumulated and reported by each USAO. However, we identified inconsistencies with the data and are concerned that EOUSA is relying on inaccurate data to determine resource needs, allocate positions, and respond to inquiries from the Attorney General, Congress, and the public.

According to EOUSA officials, another difficulty in more effectively allocating limited personnel resources is EOUSA’s inability to reallocate personnel from one district to another. EOUSA officials explained that EOUSA’s attempts to reallocate positions among USAOs have been met with opposition from several sources, including U.S. Attorneys, individual offices, and the AGAC.

In this audit, we also analyzed personnel utilization and casework data to determine the types and number of cases within the USAOs. Based upon our analyses, we found that from FY 2003 through FY 2007 USAOs, in total, were utilizing fewer attorney FTEs on counterterrorism matters than were funded by Congress for this purpose. In addition, although USAOs, in total, expended more attorney FTEs than allocated to other areas, such as health care fraud and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) matters, we identified individual USAOs that were not utilizing their entire allotment of attorney FTEs as funded by Congress.4 At the audit close-out meeting, EOUSA officials stated that EOUSA and the USAOs have begun to address the underutilization of personnel resources in particular prosecutive areas.

When assessing the casework of USAOs, we focused primarily on criminal matters referred to USAOs during FYs 2003 through 2007, and we determined the status of those matters as of September 30, 2007. Specifically, we analyzed whether the matters were filed for prosecution, declined, or remained in a pending status. The results of this analysis differed among the various prosecutorial areas. For instance, in total, the USAOs prosecuted a larger percentage of the referred narcotics, violent crime, and immigration matters compared to other types of matters. In addition, according to records in the National Legal Information Office Network System (LIONS), a large percentage of the matters referred to USAOs between FYs 2003 and 2007 – 35 percent – were considered to be pending a decision whether to prosecute as of September 30, 2007.5 Our review also revealed that the criminal and civil caseloads per USAO attorney FTE generally increased from FY 2003 to FY 2007.

During our review, we determined that EOUSA does not routinely examine the utilization of attorneys within the USAOs. EOUSA also does not regularly perform evaluations of each USAO’s casework within all prosecutorial areas. While EOUSA conducts district evaluations every 4 to 5 years that include utilization and casework assessments, we believe that EOUSA should conduct more in-depth reviews of this type of data on a more regular basis to assess how district offices are utilizing their resources.6

In our report, we make 10 recommendations to assist EOUSA in its resource planning and allocation decisions, as well as in its management of USAO operations. Our report, along with the appendices, contains detailed information on the full results of our review of the USAOs’ resource allocation. The remaining sections of this Executive Summary summarize in more detail our audit findings.

Weaknesses in Resource Allocation

As discussed in the following sections, we found weaknesses in the allocation of USAO resources because EOUSA did not have necessary information to make fully informed resource and planning decisions. Despite its attempts to do so, EOUSA has been unable to develop a reliable and objective quantitative model to use in evaluating the needs of individual USAOs.

When formulating its annual budget request and assessing USAO resource needs, EOUSA considers data from two databases, the USA‑5 and LIONS.7 EOUSA also uses this data to help decide where to place additional attorney positions and to respond to inquiries from Congress, the Attorney General, and the public. However, we found deficiencies in the data that call into question its reliability. These deficiencies can affect EOUSA’s budget requests, allocation process, and statistical reporting.

Further, EOUSA has encountered difficulty in reallocating existing positions among USAOs given the inherent independence of presidentially appointed U.S. Attorneys and their general reluctance to willingly give up attorney positions to be reallocated to other USAOs.

Unsuccessful Attempts to Assess Resource Needs

Over the past several years, EOUSA has been unsuccessful in its attempts to develop a formula to identify optimal resource levels for USAOs. As a result, EOUSA has been unable to statistically justify the reallocation of current USAO resources. EOUSA’s most recent attempt, which began in April 2006, concluded that it was not feasible to develop a simple, reliable, and objective formula for determining the appropriate staffing of USAOs. Even if such a model were available, however, the EOUSA Director stated that one of the AGAC’s working groups concluded that it would be politically impractical to reallocate existing positions among USAOs.

Limitations of USAO Utilization Data

We found weaknesses in the accuracy of self-reported USA-5 data on USAO attorneys’ time. These weaknesses include the lack of consistency in recording attorney time, minimal recording of time to specific categories, and no standardized approach for entering time on cases that span several different types of offenses.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSA) are required to record time to the USA-5, at a minimum, on a monthly basis although EOUSA encourages USAO personnel to enter time on a daily basis. Discussions with USAO personnel indicated that AUSAs generally enter their time in various intervals, such as weekly or monthly. We believe that the probability of the data being inaccurate is much greater when there is a significant span of time between the actual work performed and the time those activities are recorded.

Further, AUSAs must record time to broad categories according to the types of matters or cases on which they are working, such as violent crime. The USA-5 system contains more specific categories, such as criminal gang prosecution, which were established to report to the Department and Congress the number of resources being utilized in various priority areas. However, during our review of the USA-5 data we determined that AUSAs generally do not record time to the more specific categories because it is not mandatory to do so. Although EOUSA officials explained that not every case requires use of such a specific category, we believe there is a significant underutilization of the more specific category codes. We found that only 13 to 16 percent of total reported attorney FTEs was associated with any specific category during any of the fiscal years in our review period.

Another factor that may contribute to inaccurate USAO resource utilization data is the lack of a standardized method for recording time to cases involving multiple offenses. For example, in a day an AUSA may work 12 hours on a case associated with terrorism, narcotics, and fraud. Since there is no standard approach to allocating time among these activities, AUSAs can record time in a variety of ways, such as recording all 12 hours only to fraud, or recording 4 hours to each of the three areas associated with the case. As a result, the USA-5 may inaccurately depict AUSAs expending more or less time on certain activities than was actually performed.

Limitations of USAO Casework Data

The casework data contained in LIONS is generated at the USAO level, and the classification of cases varies from one district to another. For instance, two districts may each have a case involving firearms and drug trafficking violations. One district may categorize the case as a drug trafficking offense, while the other district may categorize it as a firearms offense. EOUSA officials noted that the data contained in LIONS may therefore be inconsistent and result in reporting imprecise information on the number of specific types of cases being handled by USAOs.

Additionally, we identified a lag between the time cases are actually filed in court and when that information is entered into LIONS. According to EOUSA officials, 30 days is a reasonable period of time in which to enter case information into LIONS after a case filing. However, as reflected in the following table, we found that 74,490 of the 254,481 cases (29 percent) filed between FYs 2003 and 2007 exceeded this 30-day timeframe. EOUSA officials offered various explanations for the delays, including resource constraints leading to case entry backlog, as well as the possibility of delays in receiving the necessary court documents.

Range Number of Cases Percentage of Total8
1 to 30 Days 179,991 70.73%
31 to 180 Days 53,521 21.03%
181 Days to 365 Days 14,596 5.74%
1+ to 2 Years 4,220 1.66%
2+ to 5 Years 1,829 0.72%
5+ to 10 Years 224 0.09%
Greater than 10 Years 100 0.04%
Total 254,481 100.01%
Source: OIG analysis of LIONS data

Lack of Existing Resource Reallocation

According to EOUSA officials, USAOs have historically maintained a base level of attorney FTEs from one fiscal year to the next, and existing positions are rarely moved from one office to another. EOUSA officials provided several reasons they said contribute to EOUSA’s difficulty in reallocating existing positions among USAOs. Due to this inability to reallocate positions, some USAOs may be overstaffed while others may be understaffed.

However, attempts by EOUSA to move positions from one district to another are generally met with opposition from several sources, including U.S. Attorneys, individual offices, and the AGAC. In addition, EOUSA officials said that positions are, at times, congressionally appropriated to specific districts and EOUSA cannot, in turn, allocate those positions to other USAOs.

However, in congressional appropriation reports for FY 2002, EOUSA was given the opportunity to redistribute resources among districts. Specifically, the congressional reports associated with the Department’s 2002 appropriations language stated that “all previous congressional guidance to the U.S. Attorneys regarding initiatives and the designation of funds is waived.” Moreover, the Appropriations Committee stated that EOUSA was free to distribute manpower and funding among the district offices as it saw fit and directed EOUSA to submit a report on its proposed actions by March 2002. However, according to an EOUSA official, EOUSA did not submit a written report to the Appropriations Committees explaining its actions; instead, according to this official, a verbal report was provided and EOUSA did not reallocate any positions among USAOs. EOUSA officials said Congress has not passed similar language regarding the redistribution of resources since that time.

EOUSA has attempted to alleviate some of its allocation-related issues by assigning new positions to particular USAOs for a specified time period, at the conclusion of which EOUSA re-evaluates the personnel resource needs of that and other offices and determines if those positions should remain or be reallocated to other USAOs. Moreover, EOUSA has conducted a more in-depth assessment of district needs in specific priority areas before it allocated these newly appropriated positions to address those specific activities.

While we believe EOUSA has taken steps to mitigate staffing discrepancies among districts, we believe that EOUSA should enhance the reliability of its resource utilization and casework data so that it is able to more effectively assess and allocate resources among USAOs according to their needs.

Utilization of USAO Resources

USAO attorney resources are measured in FTEs. The number of FTEs assigned to an office by the Department is called its allocated amount, while the actual use of those resources as tracked through the USA-5 time reporting system is referred to as utilization.

We determined that the number of attorney FTEs allocated to USAOs rose slightly throughout our review period – increasing from 5,459 attorney FTEs in FY 2003 to 5,708 in FY 2007, an increase of 5 percent, as depicted in the following graph.

FYs 2003 THROUGH 2007

Allocated FTEs: FY 2003 - 5,459; FY 2004 - 5,499; FY 2005 - 5,520; FY 2006 - 5,673; FY 2007 - 5,708.

Source: OIG analysis of EOUSA Resource Management and Planning Staff data

In addition, we compared the allocation and utilization of attorney FTEs within each USAO throughout our review period and found that, in total, USAOs were utilizing fewer attorney FTEs than allocated during each fiscal year of our review period, as reflected in the following graph. EOUSA officials attributed this shortfall primarily to budget limitations, which prevented USAOs from actually filling positions allocated to them. As discussed below, we also determined that several USAOs were not utilizing attorney resources in accordance with the funding provided for specific activities, including counterterrorism, health care fraud, and OCDETF.9

FYs 2003 THROUGH 2007

Allocated FTEs/Utilized FTEs/Difference: FY 2003 - 5,459/5,263/196; FY 2004 - 5,499/5,308/191; FY 2005 - 5,520/5,232/288; FY 2006 - 5,673/5,171/502; FY 2007 - 5,708/5,080/628.

Source: OIG analysis of EOUSA Resource Management and Planning Staff and USA-5 data

According to EOUSA officials, this underutilization occurred primarily because USAOs had limited budgets to address annual rising costs, such as cost-of-living adjustments and increases in rent. In addition, EOUSA stated that it could not fully fund all of its reimbursable positions with the money provided for these positions. EOUSA explained that it had to supplement reimbursable funding with its own direct appropriations because the reimbursable funding remained constant during our review period while costs increased. As a result, these officials stated that USAOs did not have adequate funds remaining to fill vacant positions, even though the positions were allocated to the offices.

We found, however, that the gaps between allocated and utilized attorney FTEs were mitigated when the additional hours worked by attorneys in excess of a standard 40-hour work week were factored into our evaluation, as illustrated in the following graph. When combining these additional attorney work hours to the regular time charged by attorneys, the USAOs actually utilized a greater number of attorney FTEs than allocated throughout our review period. Thus, the previously discussed gaps between allocated and utilized attorney FTEs were absorbed by existing attorneys recording more hours. However, even when including these additional hours, the overall utilization of attorney FTEs was still less in FY 2007 (5,982 FTEs) than it was in FY 2003 (6,274 FTEs).

FYs 2003 THROUGH 2007

legend for image below
Allocated FTEs/Utilized FTEs/Additional FTEs/Combined Utilized and Additional FTEs: FY 2003 - 5,459/5,263/1,011/6,274; FY 2004 - 5,499/5,308/979/6,287; FY 2005 - 5,520/5,232/945/6,177; FY 2006 - 5,673/5,171/908/6,079; FY 2007 - 5,708/5,080/902/5,982.

Source: OIG analysis of EOUSA Resource Management and Planning Staff and USA-5 data

Increase in USAO Unused Attorney FTEs

We also examined the percentage gap between allocated and utilized attorney FTEs (excluding additional time recorded by attorneys) of USAOs by office size and found that the gaps within all groups generally increased from FYs 2003 to 2007, as shown in the following table.10 As the table illustrates, large and extra-large offices were affected more than smaller offices.

FYs 2003 THROUGH 2007
USAO Category FY 2003 FY 2004 FY 2005 FY 2006 FY 2007
Extra-large 4.11% 4.56% 5.79% 11.62% 14.50%
Large 3.33% 2.45% 4.92% 7.54% 9.18%
Medium 2.58% 1.81% 4.46% 4.60% 6.28%
Small 3.41% 3.40% 4.23% 5.39% 5.85%
Source: OIG analysis of EOUSA Resource Management and Planning Staff and USA-5 data

“Burn” Rates

Additionally, we analyzed the “burn” rates of attorney FTEs in various prosecutorial areas to determine if USAOs were utilizing resources in accordance with the specific activities for which funding was provided by Congress. EOUSA uses the term “burn” rate to refer to the difference between allocated resources and actual utilized resources. An “overburn” occurs when more resources are utilized than allocated. In turn, an “underburn” occurs when fewer resources are utilized than allocated.

We limited our burn rate analyses to counterterrorism, firearms, health care fraud, and OCDETF because these are specific areas in which EOUSA separately tracks both the allocation and utilization of attorney FTEs.

Based upon this analysis, we determined that USAOs expended fewer attorney FTEs on counterterrorism matters than were allocated for this purpose. Specifically, as reflected in the following chart, between 189 and 204 attorney FTEs were utilized annually on counterterrorism matters during FYs 2003 through 2005, while USAOs were allocated a total of 250 attorney FTEs for counterterrorism matters during the same time period.

FYs 2003 THROUGH 2007

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Source: OIG analysis of EOUSA Resource Management and Planning Staff and USA-5 data

In FY 2006, an additional 43 attorney FTEs were allocated for counterterrorism work, resulting in a total of 293 attorney FTEs for this initiative during FYs 2006 and 2007. However, our analyses revealed that USAOs continued to utilize approximately the same number of attorney FTEs on counterterrorism matters in FYs 2006 and 2007 as they had in FYs 2003 through 2005. During the audit close-out meeting, the EOUSA Director explained that due to the timing of the FY 2006 appropriations, these additional counterterrorism attorney FTEs would not have been captured (or utilized) until FY 2007 or later.

The EOUSA Director informed us that EOUSA had recently become aware of this underutilization and reported the matter to the Deputy Attorney General. The EOUSA Director further explained that he believed a portion of this underburn was caused by inaccurate time reporting by AUSAs, as well as fewer terrorism-related matters being referred by investigative agencies than had been referred in the past. He stated that he is working to enhance the AUSAs’ time reporting and ensure that USAOs are expending appropriate resources in priority areas.

In contrast to our review of counterterrorism burn rates, throughout our review period USAOs, in total, utilized more attorney FTEs than were allocated on firearms, health care fraud, and OCDETF matters. Burn rates for all district offices in these areas can be found in Appendices VII through X.

Lack of Comprehensive Resource Review

Through discussions with EOUSA officials, we determined that EOUSA does not regularly perform comprehensive reviews of the use of attorney resources in USAOs. Instead, EOUSA, with assistance from USAOs, performs periodic district office evaluations, called Evaluation and Review Staff (EARS) reviews, which include an assessment of the personnel resources utilized on priority areas.11 While these evaluations are intended to be conducted every 3 years, according to EOUSA officials, during the period that we reviewed recent budget limitations resulted in the evaluations being conducted every 4 to 5 years.

Because EOUSA relies primarily on these evaluations to obtain detailed information about USAOs’ resource usage, EOUSA does not have an accurate perception of how many and what kind of resources USAOs are utilizing from one fiscal year to the next in specific areas, such as counterterrorism and OCDETF. This makes it difficult for EOUSA to determine what resources a district may need, as well as whether districts are using resources in accordance with the specific purpose for which they were allocated.

EOUSA executive management informed us they were aware of this deficiency and said they plan to develop and implement a model in which this information would be routinely collected and reviewed for all district offices. We believe that such a model would provide critical information and allow EOUSA to review USAO resource allocation and utilization data on a more objective and frequent basis. However, EOUSA must also address the deficiencies affecting the reliability of the USA-5 data on which the model will rely. In addition, we recommend that EOUSA include in its new model an analysis of USAO burn rates to ensure the expected number of resources is being utilized as intended.

USAO Casework

When a law enforcement agency presents information about an investigation to a USAO, the USAO records this information in LIONS as a “matter referred.” The matter then becomes a “case” in LIONS once the USAO files an indictment or information in court.

USAOs handle a wide variety of criminal and civil matters, and according to EOUSA and USAO officials, several factors affect the type of cases worked by USAOs, including national and district priorities, availability of resources, complexity of cases, and changes in priorities within investigative agencies.

We determined that from FYs 2003 through 2007, 554,675 criminal matters were referred to USAOs. We analyzed this data as of September 30, 2007, to determine how many matters were filed for prosecution, declined, or were still pending. From FYs 2003 through 2007, 424,538 civil matters were referred to USAOs. We analyzed these matters to determine if any matters were still pending as of September 30, 2007.

Criminal Casework

In total, the USAOs filed for prosecution approximately 50 percent of all criminal matters referred between FYs 2003 and 2007 and declined 13 percent of the total matters referred. As of September 30, 2007, the remaining 35 percent were still pending a decision whether or not to prosecute. Of the 196,906 pending matters, 54,127, or nearly 30 percent, had been in a pending status for at least 3 years as shown in the following graph.

FYs 2003 THROUGH 2007

Filed/Declined/Pending/Total (as of 9/30/07): 2003 - 62,618/21,612/18,331/102,561; 2004 - 60,824/19,363/35,796/115,983; 2005 - 58,372/15,928/38,114/112,414; 2006 - 54,903/11,193/44,597/110,693; 2007 - 48,039/4,917/60,068/113,024.
legend for image above

Source: OIG analysis of LIONS data

When we presented this information to EOUSA officials, they were surprised at the large number of pending matters, particularly the large number of cases in pending status for such long periods of time, and said they were unable to fully explain this data without reviewing individual district files. We therefore judgmentally selected a limited sample of 50 pending matters from several different USAOs and requested that these USAOs notify us whether the matters were, in fact, pending. According to the USAOs’ responses, 44 percent of the matters we tested were accurately reflected as awaiting a decision to prosecute as of September 30, 2007 – half of which were referred to USAOs between FYs 2003 and 2005. However, the remaining 56 percent of matters in our sample were not actually in pending status. Instead, the USAOs explained that many of these matters had been prosecuted and the defendants sentenced prior to September 30, 2007.

When discussing this data with EOUSA officials, they provided a variety of reasons as to why some of the matters in our sample would have had subsequent case filings and terminations in the districts’ LIONS that were not reflected in the National LIONS. For instance, EOUSA officials explained that the National LIONS was not capturing all cases filed by districts due to an error in the transmission process. EOUSA officials also stated that some matters may have been terminated without a case having been filed because they were handled in a certain court setting, such as magistrate court, but that these actions were not reflected in LIONS as case filings.

EOUSA officials further stated that EOUSA does not check the accuracy of the data in the National LIONS by comparing it to what was transmitted from the USAOs or what is reflected in the LIONS databases accessible in the district offices. EOUSA officials stated that EOUSA instead relies upon data certifications performed semiannually by district offices. However, these certifications are done in the districts and address only the data that the districts submit to EOUSA, not what is ultimately stored in the National LIONS, and our work shows that these data sets are inconsistent. We believe that this analysis has revealed significant concerns over the accuracy and reliability of LIONS data.

We also assessed criminal casework in each USAO for each prosecutorial area we reviewed. These individual USAO criminal casework analyses are contained within Appendices XI through XIX.

Civil Casework

The USAOs received 9,118 fewer civil referrals during FY 2007 than during FY 2003 – decreasing from 89,961 matters in FY 2003 to 80,843 matters in FY 2007. Unlike criminal casework, USAOs do not record declinations of civil matters because USAOs must accept the majority of civil matters referred, which involve defensive litigation where the USAOs defend the U.S. government.

As a result, our analyses of civil casework assessed the number of civil matters filed or pending as of September 30, 2007. We found that the percentage of civil matters filed remained relatively steady throughout our review period – ranging from 87 to 90 percent of all civil matters referred during each of the 5 fiscal years under review.

Casework per Attorney FTE

Using USAO case data, we computed the average caseload per attorney FTE for FYs 2003 through 2007. As shown in the following graph, the average number of cases per attorney FTE generally increased throughout our review period.

FYs 2003 THROUGH 2007

Caseload per Attorney FTE: FY 2003 - 37.34; FY 2004 - 38.48; FY 2005 - 38.68; FY 2006 - 38.49; FY 2007 - 39.80.

Source: OIG analysis of LIONS data

Lack of Comprehensive Casework Review

As with the utilization of attorneys, we found that EOUSA does not routinely receive reports that provide a comprehensive assessment of the number and types of cases handled by each USAO. As discussed previously, EOUSA generally monitors USAO casework and workloads as part of the EARS evaluations of offices, which are to be performed every 3 years. However, during the period that we reviewed, evaluations generally occurred every 4 to 5 years.

Besides these evaluations, the Data Analysis Staff at EOUSA analyzes USAO data on an ad hoc basis when it receives a request, and it also compiles an annual statistical report that provides details on the entire caseload of individual USAOs. However, EOUSA’s annual statistical report does not include specific caseload information for the districts, such as the number of narcotics trafficking cases filed by each USAO.

EOUSA informed us that it intends to implement a method to routinely examine the casework of all 94 USAOs instead of continuing to rely mainly upon peer evaluations. As explained by the EOUSA Director, EOUSA intends to develop a method to examine the resource management of each USAO on a consistent basis and will provide measurable results, including various casework and caseload statistics. We believe that such an effort is important, and we recommend that this review include analyses similar to those that we performed.

Conclusion and Recommendations

We found weaknesses in the process used by EOUSA and the USAOs to allocate personnel resources. EOUSA has not developed an objectively sound statistical model to determine the optimal staffing levels for USAOs. In addition, while data from the USA-5 and LIONS are considered by EOUSA in resource planning and allocation decisions, as well as in responding to inquiries from the Department and Congress, we identified substantial deficiencies in the data that calls into question its accuracy and reliability. Additionally, EOUSA generally does not reallocate positions from one USAO to another for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, one of those reasons is opposition from several sources, including USAOs that strongly oppose losing any resources from their offices.

We found that USAOs, in total, utilized fewer attorney resources than intended for counterterrorism matters during each fiscal year of our review period. The EOUSA Director stated that this underutilization was partially caused by inaccurate time reporting by USAO attorneys and partially due to investigative agencies not bringing as many terrorism-related matters to the USAOs as they had in the past.

EOUSA conducts evaluations of individual USAOs that include an assessment of USAO resources utilized on certain prosecutorial areas, as well as a review of USAO casework and workloads. According to EOUSA officials, these evaluations are to be conducted on a triennial basis, but have recently occurred less frequently because of budget limitations. Rather than waiting for an extended period of time to collect detailed data on district activities, we believe that EOUSA should regularly collect and review resource utilization and casework data for all USAOs to ensure effective resource management within district offices.

Our audit work and findings resulted in 10 recommendations to assist EOUSA in its resource planning and allocation decisions, as well as in overseeing the operations of USAOs. Our recommendations include implementing policies and processes to assist in improving the accuracy of USAO data, as well as recommendations for EOUSA to regularly conduct comprehensive reviews on the utilization of attorney resources and USAO casework.


  1. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Guam also oversees the District of the Northern Mariana Islands, resulting in 93 U.S. Attorneys for 94 USAOs. See Appendix II for a map of USAOs.

  2. One FTE equates to 2,080 work hours.

  3. The RAWG, which is one of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee’s (AGAC) working groups, is composed of eight U.S. Attorneys. The AGAC, in turn, is comprised of 16 U.S. Attorneys and 1 AUSA and affords a mechanism for U.S. Attorneys to provide input on DOJ policies, as well as advises the Attorney General on a variety of operational and programmatic issues affecting U.S. Attorneys.

  4. The OCDETF Program is a multi-agency effort created to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations, including those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.

  5. The National LIONS, which is a centralized computer database that contains information on the casework of all USAOs, is used by EOUSA to provide statistical information to the Attorney General and Congress.

  6. Because of budget limitations faced by the organization during our review period, these district evaluations were occurring every 4 to 5 years. However, at the audit close‑out meeting EOUSA officials stated that these evaluations have resumed their triennial cycle.

  7. The USAOs use the United States Attorneys’ Monthly Resource Summary Reporting System (referred to as the USA-5) to record USAO employees’ time. They use LIONS to manage and record casework information.

  8. Due to rounding, the percentages in this table total 100.01 percent.

  9. As mentioned above, we identified several concerns with the accuracy and reliability of the USAOs’ personnel utilization and casework data. While these concerns may affect the analyses we performed, we believe the overall results presented have utility for examining the activities of the U.S. Attorney organization. Further, this data is the only utilization and casework data available for purposes of our audit and is used and relied upon by EOUSA.

  10. EOUSA categorizes offices based upon the allocated attorney staff levels. During our review period, EOUSA used the following distinctions: (1) extra-large (greater than or equal to 100 attorneys), (2) large (between 45 and 99.9 attorneys), (3) medium (between 25 and 44.9 attorneys), and (4) small (less than 25 attorneys).

  11. EOUSA monitors the activities of USAOs through a formal evaluation process overseen by its Evaluation and Review Staff (EARS). Among other things, the EARS reviewers examine whether USAOs are following DOJ polices and the Attorney General’s priorities in their allocation of prosecutive resources.

  12. This graph illustrates the total number of criminal matters referred during each fiscal year of our review period and the action taken on those matters from the time they were referred to the end of our review period (FY 2007). For example, in FY 2004, 115,983 criminal matters were referred to USAOs. Between FYs 2004 and 2007, 60,824 of the 115,983 matters were filed for prosecution and 19,363 were declined. The remaining 35,796 remained pending as of September 30, 2007.


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