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Review of the Critical Incident Response Plans of the United States Attorneys’ Offices

Report Number I-2004-001
December 2003


We concluded that the Department has not effectively implemented the CMC Program to ensure that the USAOs are ready to quickly and appropriately respond to critical incidents. Both the National Strategy for Homeland Security and the Department's Anti-Terrorism Plan establish responding effectively to such incidents as one of three main strategic objectives for the Department. The CMC Program, which began in 1996, remains the core activity of the USAOs response planning effort.

Although CTS provided the USAOs with guidance that identified 48 fundamental actions needed to plan their response to a critical incident in 1999, most critical incident response plans prepared by the USAOs failed to reflect that guidance. Of the 76 Plans that we reviewed, only 12 Plans addressed half or more of the 48 fundamental actions. Further, the USAOs rarely conducted exercises to test their Plans and practice critical incident response procedures. These deficiencies occurred because the USAOs did not place a high priority on response planning.

We also found that CTS and EOUSA did not fulfill their responsibilities to administer and support the Program. After holding two national training conferences in 1997 and 1999, CTS and EOUSA provided no further CMC-specific training in critical incident response until March 2003. CTS reviewed only a few of the Plans prepared by USAOs, and did not act when that limited review found the Plans to be largely incomplete and inadequate. Further, EOUSA does not evaluate CMC Program implementation during its periodic operational reviews of each USAO. Finally, the Department's Annual Performance Reports substantially overstated the achievements of the CMC Program at improving the USAOs' and the Department's preparedness to respond to critical incidents.

In summary, since 1996, the USAOs, CTS, and EOUSA have failed to implement Plans to improve the preparedness of the USAOs to respond to critical incidents. The first priority of the Department and the National Strategy for Homeland Security is to prevent terrorism, but those initiatives also recognize that there is a commensurate need to be prepared to respond to incidents that cannot be prevented. As stated in the Department's FY 2003 and 2004 Performance Plan, "to effectively address international and domestic terrorism, DOJ must concentrate on both prevention and response."48 The failure of the USAOs, CTS, and EOUSA to fully implement the CMC Program leaves the Department less prepared to respond effectively when critical incidents occur.

In March 2003, CTS recommended that the CMC Program be incorporated into the ATTF/ATAC initiative. The recommendation was approved October 17, 2003. Although placed under the ATACs, the CMCs "will remain responsible for the creation, implementation, maintenance and exercise of their district's crisis response plan…."49 However, the ATACs are only responsible for responding in the event of terrorist attacks, not other critical incidents. It is not clear whether the ATACs' responsibilities will be expanded to include non-terrorist critical incidents, or whether the CMCs are still responsible for responding to non-terrorist critical incidents separately. Therefore, it is unclear how the realignment of the CMCs may affect the USAOs' ability to respond to critical incidents, especially those that are not terrorist-related.

As this review showed, the need to prepare for all critical incidents has not been met. Therefore, we provide ten recommendations to improve the preparedness of the USAOs to respond to critical incidents.

We recommend that the Deputy Attorney General:

  1. Ensure that performance measures are developed to assess the readiness of USAOs to respond to critical incidents.

We recommend that all United States Attorneys:

  1. Revise the critical incident response plans to address the action items identified by CTS, and regularly update the plans to reflect changes in law, departmental policy, or local procedures.

  2. Conduct and participate in periodic exercises to test the critical incident response plans and practice responding to critical incidents.

  3. Establish workload reporting procedures that capture the time dedicated to critical incident response planning duties.

We recommend that the Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division:

  1. Provide updated training and guidance to USAOs on how to prepare effective and comprehensive critical incident response plans. The guidance should reflect changes in legislation, policy, and critical incident response practice that have taken place since September 11, 2001.

  2. Review all USAOs' Plans, including revisions, to ensure that the Plans cover all critical areas; provide individualized feedback to USAOs; and periodically report to the Deputy Attorney General on the status of the USAOs' Plans.

  3. Provide USAOs with training and guidance on how to develop and conduct appropriate critical incident response exercises, either independently or in conjunction with the FBI or other offices.

  4. In conjunction with EOUSA, complete the development of a critical incident response website with information on critical incident response, including lessons learned, exercise scenarios, and best practices.

We recommend that the Director, EOUSA:

  1. Establish a system for accurately tracking and reporting the status of USAO submissions and updates to critical incident response plans.

  2. With advice from CTS, revise the operations review process to include a full evaluation of the preparedness of USAOs to respond to critical incidents.


  1. Department of Justice, FY 2002 Performance Report/FY 2003 Revised Final Performance Plan/FY 2004 Performance Plan, page 1.

  2. Memorandum from Guy Lewis, Director, EOUSA, to All United States Attorneys, "Merger and Realignment of Crisis Management Coordinators Program Under Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council," October17, 2003.