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The Emergency Witness Assistance Program
Report Number I-2001-002


As part of the effort by the Department of Justice (Department) to improve the justice system, the Department established a strategic objective to meet the needs of, and uphold the rights of, victims of federal crimes and witnesses in federal cases. The participation of victims and witnesses in the judicial process is essential to the prosecution of federal cases. However, victims and witnesses may be fearful about cooperating in cases and need assistance to allay these fears.

To address the need for immediate, non-protective, short-duration witness assistance not available through other witness programs, such as the Witness Security Program and the Short-Term Protection Program, the Attorney General's Advisory Committee of United States Attorneys (AGAC) developed the Emergency Witness Assistance Program (EWAP), which became operational in April 1997. The EWAP provides the United States Attorneys' offices (USAOs) with the flexibility to assist witnesses and potential witnesses on an emergency basis to ensure their well-being and availability for court proceedings or other activities related to an ongoing civil or criminal case. Unlike other witness programs, the EWAP does not include any protective services, custody arrangements, or law enforcement presence. The EWAP only provides emergency assistance of money and services to help relieve some of the fear and concerns (real or perceived) that witnesses or potential witnesses have about participating in a specific matter before or after they have agreed to cooperate with the government. The assistance is usually limited to less than 30 days and less than $4,000 per witness.

The Inspections Division, Office of the Inspector General, reviewed the EWAP in the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) and selected USAOs to determine whether the program is administered properly and whether the program is achieving its purpose. We conducted the review from February through July 2000.

We found that the EWAP is a low-cost program that provides immediate benefits to witnesses and helps them to participate in the prosecution of federal cases. Since the EWAP's inception, 81 of 93 USAOs have expended approximately $1,750,000 to assist 852 witnesses. The USAOs' implementation of the EWAP has generally adhered to program guidelines, based on our sample of 250 witness files from five USAOs. However, use of the EWAP by the USAO for the District of Columbia (USAO-DC) has resulted in problems that were not envisioned by the AGAC and EOUSA when the program was developed. Some witnesses that cooperated in cases prosecuted by the USAO-DC face longer-term repercussions that require financial assistance and social services that are not covered within EWAP guidelines. For these witnesses, the USAO-DC has coordinated with local social agencies to obtain services and provided EWAP funds for certain financial needs. However, the EOUSA has not addressed what the USAO-DC should do to help witnesses that have received EWAP funds, cooperated with federal prosecutors, and still have longer-term personal needs. We recommend that the Director, EOUSA, determine whether the USAO-DC should use EWAP for longer-term witness needs or assist the USAO-DC in identifying other ways to address the USAO's unique witness issues.

We also found that administration of the EWAP should be strengthened. The EOUSA has an important role in ensuring that Department programs are implemented efficiently and effectively throughout the USAOs. As part of this role, the EOUSA must implement the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, which holds federal agencies accountable for achieving program results. At the time of our review, the EOUSA had not established program goals, performance measures, and associated data collection requirements for the EWAP nor assessed its effectiveness. The EOUSA had implemented procedures for monitoring the USAOs' use of the EWAP. These procedures (1) require the USAOs to periodically report program and financial data to the EOUSA and (2) establish an internal process within the EOUSA to review the data. However, the USAOs have not consistently submitted their reports and the EOUSA has not consistently reviewed EWAP data and identified and resolved discrepancies. Therefore, the EOUSA cannot readily determine whether EWAP is achieving its purpose and whether internal controls are in place for appropriate program and financial management. We recommend that the Director, EOUSA, should ensure that (1) performance goals, performance measures, and associated data collection requirements are established and implemented for the EWAP; (2) EWAP data collected from the USAOs is timely and accurate and analyzed in relation to the program's performance measures; and (3) the USAOs have implemented procedures for managing EWAP funds according to EOUSA guidelines and local EWAP plans.