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

Evaluation and Inspections Report I-2007-001
January 2007
Office of the Inspector General

Executive Digest


Rapid response to critical incidents, including acts of terrorism, hostage situations, and natural disasters, is an essential function of the Department of Justice (Department). Critical incident response is also an integral part of the Department’s strategy for combating terrorism.

To improve the United States Attorneys’ Offices (USAO) preparedness to respond to critical incidents, in 1996 the Attorney General directed the Department to implement the Crisis Management Coordinator (CMC) Program.

As part of that program, the Attorney General directed each USAO to designate an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) to serve as the CMC responsible for developing a critical incident response plan (CIRP) and making other preparations to ensure that the USAO was ready to respond to critical incidents.1 The Criminal Division’s Counterterrorism Section (CTS) and the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) were assigned to administer and support the CMC Program and to train the coordinators designated by the USAOs.2

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the need to respond quickly and effectively to critical incidents was highlighted in both the Department’s Anti-Terrorism Plan and the National Strategy for Homeland Security.3 For USAOs, the quality of that response depends, in large part, on developing and making any necessary revisions to CIRPs and conducting tabletop or field exercises.4

In 2003, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reviewed the Department’s CMC Program to determine whether the USAOs had carried out the Attorney General’s direction to improve their ability to respond quickly and appropriately to critical incidents.5 We found that most USAOs had not effectively implemented the CMC Program. The USAOs’ CIRPs were inadequate in scope and content to ensure a quick and appropriate response to a terrorist attack or other critical incident. Also, the USAOs generally did not follow the standard crisis preparedness practice of conducting regular critical incident response exercises.

In addition, our 2003 review found that the CTS and EOUSA provided only minimal guidance to the CMCs and did not keep the guidance up to date as changes in Department and national policy occurred. Further, the CMCs received only limited training, consisting primarily of two national conferences held in 1997 and 1999. The CTS provided no further training until March 2003, when it sponsored a 2-hour videoconference. The CTS and EOUSA also failed to track, thoroughly review, and file the CIRPs the USAOs submitted. Our 2003 report contained 10 recommendations aimed at improving the preparedness of the USAOs to respond to critical incidents.

The OIG conducted this current follow-up review to examine the USAOs’ progress since our 2003 report to prepare to respond to critical incidents. Specifically, we reviewed whether (1) each USAO had a revised and approved CIRP; (2) each USAO completed the required annual CIRP exercise and accompanying after-action report; (3) EOUSA and the CTS provided direction and guidance that assisted USAOs in their efforts to respond to critical incidents, and (4) other factors affected the USAOs’ ability to prepare to respond to critical incidents

In this review, we examined 93 revised CIRPs, 89 CIRP evaluations conducted by expert reviewers, and 101 after-action reports. We interviewed 10 EOUSA and CTS personnel and the CMCs for the District of Columbia and the Eastern District of Virginia. We also surveyed 93 CMCs and interviewed 7 CMCs whose districts had activated their CIRPs in response to critical incidents that occurred after our 2003 review.

Results in Brief

Our review found that, since the OIG’s 2003 report, the USAOs, EOUSA, and the CTS have taken important steps to improve the USAOs’ preparedness to respond to critical incidents. Yet, while progress has been made, several areas remain in need of improvement.

In May 2004, to ensure that the USAOs are prepared to respond to critical incidents, EOUSA and the CTS directed the USAOs to revise their individual CIRPs based on a model plan developed by an EOUSA expert panel. In this follow-up review, we determined that all 93 USAOs complied with this directive.

Concurrently, EOUSA and the CTS instructed the USAOs to conduct tabletop or field exercises to test their revised CIRPs and to complete after-action reports on the exercises. We found that all 93 USAOs had conducted at least one exercise and completed an after-action report since April 1, 2004, and 53 had conducted 2 or more exercises between May 2004 and November 2006.6

Additionally, in response to the OIG’s 2003 recommendations, EOUSA and the CTS: (1) provided training to CMCs on how to prepare effective and comprehensive CIRPs and develop and conduct exercises; (2) verified USAO CIRP activities through approximately June 2005; and (3) inserted questions (performance measures) pertaining to CIRPs into the USAOs’ triennial operations review process to assess the USAOs’ ability to respond to a critical incident.

The value of the actions taken in response to our recommendations was confirmed by all seven of the USAOs in districts that were significantly affected by Hurricanes Ivan, Katrina, and Rita, which damaged Gulf Coast communities in 2004 and 2005.7 According to one U.S. Attorney, developing the CIRP and conducting exercises made staff in his office more effective when a crisis occurred. CMCs from other districts affected by the hurricanes also said that having conducted CIRP exercises proved invaluable in producing timely decision making by managerial and supervisory staff.

In addition, in the year following the hurricanes, all seven districts affected by the storms conducted a CIRP exercise.

Yet, while we found that the USAOs that actually responded to critical incidents since our last review continued their CIRP activities, the majority of other USAOs have regressed in their required CIRP activities. In addition, we found that EOUSA and the CTS are not providing the necessary direction and support.

The USAOs, EOUSA, and the CTS have not fully implemented corrective action in response to the OIG’s 2003 recommendations or the guidelines subsequently provided in the model plan and the USAOs’ CIRPs.8 The model plan adopted in May 2004 requires an annual exercise and completion of an accompanying after-action report. However, in the 3 years since our December 2003 report, 85 of the USAOs had not performed an annual CIRP exercise and completed the accompanying after-action report. Initially, USAOs were responsive to the directives from EOUSA issued following the OIG’s 2003 report, with 78 districts conducting a CIRP exercise in 2004. However, only 39 USAOs conducted an exercise in 2005, and only 45 have already conducted an exercise in 2006 (as of November).9 Also, EOUSA has not maintained a process to monitor the completion of exercises or after-action reports, and the USAOs are not utilizing the capabilities the CTS provided to share lessons learned from exercises or actual events.

We also found that three additional improvements are needed. First, seven CIRPs that EOUSA initially deemed unacceptable were not subsequently reviewed. The OIG reviewed six of these seven CIRPs and determined that, in the 24 months since EOUSA found the districts’ CIRPs deficient, three of the USAOs had not addressed the areas of concern. Second, we found a significant turnover in the CMC position during the 9 months from October 2005 to July 2006 – an annualized rate of 23 percent.10 This figure is significantly greater than the 6-percent turnover rate for AUSAs as a whole in 2005. Turnover among AUSAs serving as CMCs impairs USAOs’ critical incident response preparedness. Finally, we found that factors beyond the control of the USAOs, EOUSA, and the CTS could affect the ability of USAOs to respond to critical incidents. For example, the USAOs are experiencing continuing budget shortages that have limited the number of AUSAs on staff, thereby limiting staff availability for non-prosecutorial functions such as CIRP activities.

The following sections provide more detail on the efforts by USAOs, EOUSA, and the CTS since our 2003 report to improve the quality of their critical incident preparedness. On pages v through viii, we describe the positive steps taken to prepare USAOs to respond to critical incidents. On pages viii through xiv, we describe areas where improvements are still needed.

EOUSA, CTS, and USAO Efforts to Prepare to Respond to Critical Incidents

Since the OIG’s 2003 report, the USAOs, EOUSA, and the CTS have taken positive steps toward ensuring the USAOs are prepared to respond to critical incidents. Beginning in early 2004 and continuing through October 2005, EOUSA and the CTS collaborated on developing guidance and training to improve the USAOs’ ability to respond to critical incidents. These efforts included revising the model CIRP, completing a sample exercise scenario and after-action template, reviewing each district’s revised CIRP, and conducting two CMC conferences.

In the spring of 2004, EOUSA and the CTS brought together a panel of four experienced CMCs to assess changes made to the model CIRP during the OIG’s 2003 review and to finalize a revised model CIRP. The revised model CIRP responded to a primary finding of the OIG’s 2003 report that only 16 percent of the CIRPs addressed more than half of the critical functions that a USAO may be required to perform during a critical incident.11 The expert panel met several times to complete a draft of the model plan and worked with EOUSA and the CTS to prepare a training conference, which was held in March 2004 at the National Advocacy Center in Columbia, South Carolina. The panel also constructed a sample tabletop exercise for use at the conference. At the conference, the revised draft was disseminated, and the attending CMCs reviewed the model plan and participated in the exercise and small-group discussions. They also had the opportunity to critique and suggest improvements in the draft of the revised model plan. Sixty-one CMCs attended this conference, 49 of whom remained as their district’s CMC as of July 2006. Following the conference, the expert panel used the CMCs’ feedback to finalize both the model plan and sample tabletop exercise.

In the 2003 report, we documented that since the inception of the CMC Program in May 1996, the CTS had sponsored only two training conferences specifically for CMCs (in 1997 and 1999). CTS officials told us that the Department’s anti-terrorism focus following September 11, 2001, had precluded additional training sessions for CMCs. Our 2003 report recommended that training be provided on how to prepare effective and comprehensive CIRPs. The March 2004 conference was the first training session held for CMCs since 1999, other than a 2-hour videoconference conducted in March 2003.

In May 2004, EOUSA staff administering the CIRP improvements worked with EOUSA’s Security Programs Staff to have items pertaining to the CIRP and critical incident preparedness activities added to the triennial operations reviews of USAOs. The reviews are conducted by EOUSA’s Evaluation and Review Staff (EARS) and utilize self-assessment checklists, which are completed by USAO staff. The EOUSA added items to the checklist addressing whether the district had designated a CMC, revised its CIRP, conducted the required tabletop or field exercise, and completed the subsequent after-action report. According to the EARS Director, the goal of the EARS team during a triennial review is to assess a district’s overall operations and management and, if particular policies and procedures are not in place, recommend that they be implemented. These questions were added to address the OIG’s 2003 recommendation that performance measures be developed to assess the USAOs’ ability to respond to a critical incident.

On May 10, 2004, the final version of the revised model plan was distributed to all CMCs with instructions to revise their existing CIRPs to follow the new format and submit them to EOUSA by May 28, 2004. As EOUSA received revised CIRPs from the USAOs, it forwarded each of them to one of four members of its expert panel to evaluate for compliance with the model plan’s requirements. All 93 USAOs eventually revised their CIRPs.

In June 2004, the expert panelists began their reviews of the revised CIRPs using a checklist, which they developed, to evaluate the CIRPs for completeness and to note any additional comments on how a district should revise its CIRP. The expert reviewers judged 68 of the revised CIRPs to be “acceptable” without further modification, while another 14 were “acceptable with changes.” Only seven of the CIRPs were deemed “unacceptable.”12 This represents a marked improvement from our 2003 review, which found that 72 of the 76 CIRPs the OIG analyzed were lacking fundamental elements of an effective critical incident response that would have rendered them unacceptable under the current model plan.

In early July 2004, using the feedback from the CMC participants at the March conference, EOUSA and the CTS completed the revisions to the sample tabletop exercise. They also prepared an after-action report template to assist CMCs in memorializing lessons learned from the exercises and the need for any changes to their districts’ CIRPs. The sample exercise and the after-action report template were sent to the CMCs with instructions to conduct an exercise within 30 days of receiving feedback from the expert reviewer on their CIRP. The OIG found that 78 districts conducted a CIRP exercise in 2004. The remaining 15 districts conducted their first exercise in either 2005 or 2006. Thus, after revising their CIRPs in 2004 and 2005, all 93 USAOs conducted at least one exercise and completed an after-action report.13 In our 2003 review, only 30 of the 81 CMCs who replied to the OIG’s survey stated that their USAOs had conducted a CIRP exercise in the 7 years after 1996.

In early 2005, in response to our 2003 recommendations, EOUSA began the process of monitoring the USAOs’ completion of their CIRP exercises and after-action reports. However, EOUSA discontinued the effort in June 2005, just prior to the staff person responsible for the monitoring transferring to the CTS.

Also in 2005, the CTS requested and received approval to create a National Crisis Management Coordinator (National Coordinator) position to further the critical incident preparedness activities of the USAOs, including developing the training for the 2005 CMC conference held in October at the National Advocacy Center.14 Part of the agenda at the conference was to share the lessons learned by those USAOs whose districts were struck by hurricanes in 2004 and 2005.

As part of this current review, the OIG interviewed CMCs from seven districts who stated in their survey responses that they had activated their CIRPs in response to hurricanes. At the time of the storms, each of the seven districts already had its revised CIRP approved. Six of the seven USAOs had conducted a CIRP exercise prior to the hurricanes striking their districts.15

In these interviews, the CMCs described their efforts both before and after the storms and commented very positively on the benefits derived from the response preparation activities. Commenting on the training exercises, one CMC said, “More than anything else, they provided awareness of the issues we would be dealing with. These are the people [in other law enforcement and response agencies that] we are going to be working with, and people will have already thought through some of these [critical incident response] issues.” Another CMC said, “It becomes second nature and these [decisions and activities] would be the type of things that may occur depending on the issue. It also forced some people to think about what our role would be depending on the incident.” All seven districts conducted a CIRP exercise in the calendar year after activating their CIRPs because of the storms.

Finally, in response to an OIG recommendation, EOUSA and the CTS expanded the content on their web sites (both Internet and intranet) to provide additional information and resources to assist the CMCs in their efforts to conduct critical incident preparedness activities. During the course of this review, the CTS significantly increased the information available to USAOs on its “Docushare” intranet web site.

Areas Where Improvements Are Still Needed

We found that, after being responsive to the OIG’s 2003 recommendations through approximately June 2005, the USAOs have regressed in their critical incident preparation activities. Our current review found that USAOs were not fulfilling the requirement in the revised model plan for conducting an annual exercise and completing an accompanying after-action report. We also found that EOUSA and the CTS discontinued providing direction and support to ensure that USAOs continually prepare for critical incidents, in contrast to their efforts following the issuance of our 2003 report.

The USAOs have regressed in their critical incident preparation activities.

USAOs have not conducted annual CIRP exercises. Pursuant to the revised model plan, which was adopted by each USAO through its CIRP, the USAOs were to have conducted a tabletop exercise annually and should have completed at least three exercises by the end of 2006. While each of the 93 USAOs has conducted at least 1 exercise since revising its CIRP in 2004, only 16 USAOs are in compliance with annual exercise requirements.16 Moreover, we found that only 53 (57 percent) had conducted at least two exercises during the 2004 to 2006 period.17 Survey responses and follow-up correspondence indicated that some of the USAOs’ did not conduct exercises because of difficulty scheduling them in conjunction with the prosecutorial responsibilities of both the CMC and other AUSAs in the office.18

USAOs have not continued to complete after-action reports. The rate of completion for after-action reports has decreased significantly since USAOs conducted their first CIRP exercises. While all but two districts completed an after-action report for their first exercise, only 24 of the 53 (45 percent) USAOs that conducted multiple CIRP exercises completed after-action reports for any of their subsequent CIRP exercises. Further, only eight USAOs completed an exercise and the corresponding after-action report in each of the three calendar years from 2004 through 2006. Under the model plan each USAO adopted, the USAOs are to complete after-action reports after each CIRP exercise or a critical incident. The reports are intended to memorialize lessons learned and necessary changes to a district’s CIRP. When there is no documentation of previous exercises, newly appointed CMCs have no records to consult on what activities the district has engaged in and what lessons should have been learned from those exercises.

USAOs have not utilized the information sharing capabilities the CTS provided. In response to our survey, 52 CMCs stated that they had never received after-action reports, lessons learned information, or copies of revised CIRPs from other USAOs, EOUSA, or the CTS. In 2003, we recommended that EOUSA, in conjunction with the CTS, complete the development of an intranet site containing information on critical incident response, including lessons learned, exercise scenarios, and best practices. In response, EOUSA and the CTS developed a web site to provide USAOs with access to other USAOs’ CIRPs and after-action reports. Our survey found that 51 CMCs had visited the site, and 49 of them reported it was useful in locating critical incident planning information. The remaining 42 CMCs (45 percent) reported they had never visited the web site. The EOUSA and the CTS designed the intranet to be the primary source of disseminating information on critical incident response planning. Thus, the large percentage of CMCs that have not visited the web site indicates CMCs are not utilizing the lessons learned and other information available to assist them in their critical incident response preparation.

EOUSA and the CTS have not provided the direction and support needed to ensure that the USAOs continually prepare for critical incidents.

EOUSA no longer assists the CTS with the USAOs’ critical incident response preparation. In April 2005, the CTS created a National Coordinator position to assist with the CMC Program; by September 2005, EOUSA had ceased monitoring and ceded all involvement in the USAOs’ preparation activities to the CTS. At that time, the EOUSA staff person responsible for implementing the OIG’s 2003 recommendations transferred to the CTS to assist with the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council Program. Currently, EOUSA does not have any staff assigned to assist the USAOs with CIRP-related activities. EOUSA’s diminished role occurred despite the lack of any change in the responsibilities of either organization pertaining to the CMC Program.

In the 1996 decision memorandum implementing the CMC Program, the Attorney General instructed EOUSA to monitor timely CIRP submissions and updates, and instructed the CTS, in conjunction with EOUSA, to develop and ensure training for the CMCs. When the model plan was revised in 2004, it instructed USAOs to forward their revised CIRPs and after-action reports to EOUSA. Thus, EOUSA still should have an active role in providing guidance to the USAOs and monitoring CIRP activities.

We found that in 2004 and early 2005, EOUSA staff tracked the USAOs’ completion of the exercises and after-action reports, but those efforts ceased before all of the USAOs completed their first exercise. EOUSA and the CTS made no effort to track the completion of a second round of exercises. Neither EOUSA nor the CTS actively monitored the completion of exercises or after-action reports since approximately June 2005. Although the CTS created a National Coordinator position, CTS is not directly or indirectly involved in overseeing the performance of the USAOs because the CTS believes such activities fall under the purview of EOUSA. According to the CTS, its role is providing advice on exercises, policy updates, and emerging issues regarding critical response preparedness, while EOUSA handles the administrative functions, such as monitoring the USAOs’ completion of exercises. During the course of this review, however, the OIG found that EOUSA was no longer performing these administrative functions for the CMC Program.

USAOs’ performance measures have been removed. In October 2005, EOUSA removed three questions pertaining to CIRP activities that had been added to the EARS self-assessment checklist used in EOUSA’s triennial review of each USAO. According to the EARS Director, questions pertaining to the designation of a CMC, CIRP exercises, and after-action reports were dropped in 2005 “to streamline the checklist.” This action was taken without consulting the CTS.19

During this review, the OIG informed the CTS of the questions’ removal, and the CTS subsequently initiated efforts with EOUSA to reinstate information about CIRP-related activities in the triennial review. On September 21, 2006, the EARS Director provided the OIG with new questions that USAOs would be asked about their CIRPs and CMCs as part of the evaluation process, and the questions addressed each of the items that had been removed.

Competing responsibilities have diminished the National Coordinator’s effectiveness with the CMC Program. The Department has assigned critical incident planning efforts to the CMC Program’s National Coordinator, including making him the point person on the Department’s avian flu response preparation. Most of these efforts are not directly related to his responsibilities for managing the CMC Program. According to the CTS, these additional responsibilities have prevented the National Coordinator from completing the CMC Program tasks the CTS originally envisioned, such as serving as the primary link to the CMCs in the districts by disseminating policy, training, and exercise information. Also, EOUSA’s decision to not monitor the USAOs’ CIRP activities significantly limited the National Coordinator’s awareness of the USAOs’ current critical incident preparations.

Because of these additional responsibilities, the National Coordinator has been unable to maintain an effective dialogue with the CMCs regarding CIRP-related activities since the October 2005 conference. We found through our survey that 62 CMCs had never received after-action reports (from exercises or critical incidents), other lessons learned information, or copies of revised CIRPs from EOUSA or the CTS.20 While this information was made available on the CTS’s intranet, the National Coordinator told the OIG he intended to communicate with CMCs directly, including providing information about upcoming exercises in which their districts could participate.

Newly appointed CMCs have not received training. In the 9 months after the CMC training conference in October 2005, 16 new CMCs were appointed and, a s of July 2006, had not received any training.21 Eight of the 16 indicated they had no critical incident experience prior to becoming CMCs. In fact, of the current 93 CMCs, 52 stated in their survey responses that they had no critical incident experience prior to becoming CMCs, which highlights the need for timely training.22

In 2003, the OIG recommended that training and guidance be provided to the USAOs on CIRP activities. EOUSA and the CTS responded by conducting the 2004 and 2005 CMC training conferences and developing the model plan and sample tabletop exercises. However, the lack of training for recently assigned CMCs demonstrates a need to address the training of CMCs appointed between conferences, especially given the turnover rate in the CMC position. Even if EOUSA and the CTS were committed to conducting annual conferences (no conference will be conducted in 2006), any CMCs appointed shortly after a conference would go without formal training for nearly 12 months in the absence of readily accessible orientation materials. While the CTS has significantly increased the materials available on its intranet site, the OIG did not find specific orientation materials designed for newly appointed CMCs. Given the likelihood that newly appointed CMCs do not have prior critical incident response experience, training materials should be readily available to newly appointed CMCs to help them function effectively in the position. The number of newly appointed CMCs also underscores the need to ensure that each district complete after-action reports in order to provide documentation for successive CMCs at each USAO.

Another reason new CMCs do not receive training is that the USAOs have not alerted EOUSA and the CTS when they appoint new or acting CMCs.23 The model plan does not require USAOs to promptly notify EOUSA or the CTS when there is a change, vacancy, or “acting” appointment to the CMC position.24 We found that several districts had not notified the National Coordinator of CMC appointments, thus delaying the CMCs’ acquisition of the background information they need to perform their role because they were unaware of where to get the information. During follow-up correspondence to our survey, four newly appointed CMCs asked the OIG how to acquire, and where to forward upon completion, materials on CIRP revisions, exercises, and training, even though the CIRP-related information is available on the EOUSA intranet.25 Further, we found that several districts with CMC vacancies had not designated a replacement CMC until assigning someone to complete the OIG’s survey.

EOUSA and the CTS never determined that all 93 CIRPs were acceptable. We found that the seven CIRPs that the panel of experts deemed unacceptable were not reviewed again after districts revised and resubmitted them. CTS officials stated that they did not believe a second review was necessary because they trusted the USAOs to make the required revisions. Because there was never a second review of the seven CIRPs, EOUSA and the CTS could not demonstrate that all USAOs had acceptable CIRPs. An OIG review of current versions of six of those seven CIRPs found that not all areas of concern had been addressed in the 24 months since the CIRPs had been found deficient.26 Of these six districts, three had not corrected the deficiencies that were the primary reason their CIRPs had been deemed unacceptable: the lack of contingency plans should one of the district’s branch offices become unavailable for operations.

Other Factors Affecting the USAOs’ Ability to Prepare to Respond to Critical Incidents

During the course of our review, we identified two factors that are adversely affecting the CMC program: 1) limited budgetary resources, which are generally outside of the control of the USAOs; and 2) high turnover among CMCs, which affects the continuity of CIRP-related activities.

Budget shortages and rescissions have limited the ability of AUSAs to complete non-prosecutorial functions.

Budget shortages for the USAOs over the past 4 years (FY 2003 - FY 2006) have reduced funding available to the USAOs. According to EOUSA, this has reduced the number of AUSAs, while the USAOs’ workload has continued to increase. Consequently, according to CMCs, the ability of AUSAs to complete non-prosecutorial functions, such as CMC duties, has been restricted. Because of the collateral nature of the CMC position, reducing the amount of time CMCs dedicate to CIRP-related activities can have a significant negative impact on a USAO’s ability to prepare for critical incidents. Further, according to CMCs, AUSAs are evaluated on the number of prosecutions and not on CMC activities. Thus, AUSAs have less incentive to focus on CIRP-related activities.

Turnover among AUSAs serving as CMCs adversely affects USAOs’ critical incident response preparedness .

The turnover for CMCs since the October 2005 CMC conference has been much higher than that for AUSAs as a whole. Annualized, the CMCs’ rate of turnover was 23 percent – nearly four times that for AUSAs in 2005. Coupled with the lack of immediate access to training, high turnover disrupts the continuity of CMC activities.27 The turnover rate also emphasizes the need for USAOs to keep EOUSA and the CTS aware of changes in the USAO’s CMC position.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In response to our 2003 report, EOUSA and the CTS have taken important steps such as an improved model plan that the USAOs have adopted, and the completion of exercises on a much more frequent basis that have improved the USAOs’ critical response preparedness. If pursued, these efforts can help USAOs respond quickly and appropriately to critical incidents.

Yet, despite the initial responsiveness to the OIG’s 2003 recommendations, the efforts of the USAOs, EOUSA, and the CTS have regressed since June 2005. We found that USAOs have not consistently completed after-action reports following CIRP exercises or actual critical events, or forwarded these reports to both EOUSA and the CTS to allow for lessons learned to be shared. The USAOs also have not consistently notified EOUSA and the CTS immediately upon a new CMC’s appointment. Moreover, EOUSA and the CTS need to clarify their responsibilities for the CMC Program. The CTS, if it is to be the lead component in directing and supporting the CMCs, needs to provide additional administrative assistance to the program to (1) ensure that the USAOs are actually conducting the requisite activities and (2) leverage the lessons learned by each of the districts as they engage in CIRP exercises and actual events by sharing the positive and negative experiences with all other USAOs.

The response by USAOs in the areas affected by the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes demonstrates the value of the critical incident preparations they undertook beginning in March 2004. However, other USAOs have not followed the CIRP requirements, nor have EOUSA and the CTS provided the necessary direction and support to ensure that USAOs continually prepare for critical incidents.

In this report, we make seven recommendations to improve the USAOs’ critical incident response planning. We recommend that:

  1. EOUSA and the CTS clarify each component’s CMC Program responsibilities.

  2. In accordance with guidance provided by EOUSA and the CTS, the USAOs conduct exercises of their CIRPs.

  3. The USAOs complete, retain, and forward copies of after-action reports to EOUSA and the CTS.

  4. EOUSA and the CTS establish a system that alerts EOUSA when USAOs do not:

  5. EOUSA ensure that performance measures to monitor completion of CIRP exercises and after-action reports remain a part of its triennial review process.

  6. When vacancies occur in CMC positions (either permanent or temporary), the USAOs appoint new CMCs as soon as practicable; the USAOs also should notify EOUSA and the CTS immediately of any vacancies and subsequent appointments.

  7. EOUSA and the CTS ensure that new CMCs receive timely orientation and training.

  1. Critical Incident Response Plan, Decision Memorandum to the Attorney General, May 23, 1996 (signed May 24, 1996),

  2. Prior to becoming part of the Criminal Division in December 2002, the CTS was part of the Terrorism and Violent Crimes Section. On September 28, 2006, the Department announced that the CTS would become part of the National Security Division established under the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 (Pub. L. No. 109-177 (2006)).

  3. Memorandum from the Attorney General to USAOs, “Anti-Terrorism Plan,” September 17, 2001; National Strategy for Homeland Security, Office of Homeland Security, July 16, 2002.

  4. Tabletop exercises are emergency preparedness drills that are completed in a conference room setting (not out in the field). Field exercises are emergency preparedness drills that require more active participation by those engaging in the simulated events.

  5. See the OIG report entitled Review of the Critical Incident Response Plans of the United States Attorneys’ Offices, I-2004-001, December 2003,

  6. One district had completed a CIRP exercise in April 2004, prior to EOUSA and the CTS instructing USAOs to conduct such exercises.

  7. See Appendix I for additional discussion of the USAOs’ and EOUSA’s response efforts during these natural disasters.

  8. The USAOs’ individual CIRPs adopted the language (including guidelines) set forth in the model plan.

  9. An additional 12 USAOs stated in their survey responses and subsequent e-mails that they planned to conduct an exercise by the end of the 2006 calendar year.

  10. The turnover rate for CMCs was 17 percent over the 9-month period, which if annualized would be 23 percent.

  11. The 2003 review found that only 12 of the 76 CIRPs on file at EOUSA and the CTS addressed more than half of the 48 critical functions. Just 4 of these 76 addressed all 48 functions. Eleven USAOs simply inserted their name into the prior version of the model plan.

  12. The OIG was unable to find documentation for the expert panel’s review of four CIRPs. These four USAOs reported they never received the evaluator’s comments. The OIG analyzed these four CIRPs and found they were in compliance with the new model plan.

  13. One district stated it had completed an after-action report for its 2004 exercise but was unable to locate a copy of the report; EOUSA did not have a copy on file. This district has not completed a second exercise.

  14. Seventy-five CMCs attended the October 2005 conference, 51 of whom remained their district’s CMC as of July 2006.

  15. The one district that had not conducted an exercise prior to the hurricane that struck its district was the Northern District of Florida, which completed its revised CIRP in June 2004. Hurricane Ivan struck the district in September 2004.

  16. Sixteen USAOs had already completed an exercise in each of the 3 years (2004 through 2006); two additional districts had an exercise scheduled to occur prior to the close of 2006 and, upon completion, would also be in compliance with the model plan’s requirement.

  17. During this review, the OIG used a broad interpretation of what constituted a CIRP exercise. For example, the OIG considered it a CIRP exercise if a district participated in exercises with other federal, state, and local agencies that dealt with critical incident response, even if the USAOs’ participants were not utilizing the USAO’s CIRP as part of the exercise. Because one of the most important aspects of critical incident response is building relationships with other agencies, the OIG believes such activities meet the annual exercise requirement, especially since these activities encourage the USAOs to attend exercises in the field rather than relying on tabletop simulations.

  18. Five of the six districts that were affected by the 2005 hurricanes did not conduct exercises in 2005.

  19. EARS Director, September 21, 2006, e-mail.

  20. The 62 CMCs versus the 52 CMCs referenced on page x, is based on the source of the information being EOUSA and the CTS, and does not include information received from other USAOs.

  21. Additionally, in response to our survey, several of these new CMCs stated they did not have the training materials from the 2004 and 2005 CMC conferences.

  22. Three of these new CMCs were designated as “acting” in place of CMCs who had been called to National Guard duty in Iraq.

  23. The lack of specific personnel assigned to the CIRP program at EOUSA raises the issue of who at EOUSA USAOs would contact.

  24. The model plan does impose a 6-month revision requirement, and revisions are to be forwarded to EOUSA and the CTS. Thus, a newly appointed CMC would be denoted in the revised CIRP.

  25. While the National Coordinator is listed on the web site, instructions on where (or to whom) to send information to EOUSA were not readily apparent.

  26. The seventh CIRP was not reviewed because the CMC indicated that the district planned to make significant changes to it in the immediate future.

  27. The OIG could not research the historical CMC turnover rate because the information was not available through the USAOs, EOUSA, or the CTS.

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