The External Effects of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Reprioritization Efforts
(Redacted for Public Release)
Audit Report 05-37
Office of the Inspector General
After 9/11, the FBI reoriented its investigative efforts away from many traditional criminal areas to focus on counterterrorism. Comparing FY 2004 to FY 2000, the FBI planned to use 1,143 (17 percent) fewer resources in its criminal programs during FY 2004. However, according to FBI agent utilization data, the FBI actually reduced its criminal resources more than twice as much as it had intended. In turn, the FBI opened fewer criminal cases and referred fewer criminal matters to the USAOs in FY 2004 than in FY 2000.
To examine the effect the FBI’s reprioritization has had on other law enforcement agencies, we interviewed representatives at numerous federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Additionally, we disseminated a web-based survey to 3,514 state and local law enforcement agencies to obtain a large-scale perspective on the impact that the FBI’s reprioritization has had on their operations. Overall, the results of the survey indicated that most state and local law enforcement agencies did not believe that criminal investigations in their jurisdictions were greatly affected by the FBI’s reprioritization. However, according to our follow-up discussions with representatives of the law enforcement community in seven FBI field jurisdictions, the effect was more pronounced in some jurisdictions and in some criminal areas.
As a result of our review, we provide the following conclusions and recommendations for the FBI to consider in allocating its agent resources and for improving specific areas of its operations.
FBI Resource Projection
In FY 2004, the FBI allocated 5,753 field agents for criminal matters, but only utilized 4,474 of these agents on such issues – a difference of 1,279 agents. A similar underutilization of FBI agents on criminal matters also existed in FY 2003. According to FBI Headquarters and field-level managers, FBI field offices were directed to ensure that the FBI’s national priority areas were adequately staffed and that no terrorism-related matter went unaddressed. These officials further stated that this explains the significant gap in the utilization and allocation figures. However, the FBI needs to make sure that its allocations of field agents to both terrorism and non-terrorism programs are practical, effective, and based upon sound evaluations of need.
Financial Institution Fraud
The FBI significantly reduced its investigative efforts for fraudulent activity involving financial institutions (such as banks). Principally, the FBI scaled back its handling of lower dollar cases [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED]. We agree that the FBI must prioritize its investigations and first address the most egregious criminal activities. However, discussions with USAOs and analysis of USAO data revealed that no other federal agency has replaced the reduced FBI effort in this crime area. Therefore, an investigative gap exists for financial institution fraud (FIF), [SENSITIVE INFORMATION REDACTED].
According to FBI officials, FBI field offices are only nominally involved in the investigation of telemarketing and wire fraud. Additionally, no other law enforcement agency has assumed a significantly larger investigative role in these areas. Therefore, an investigative gap also exists for telemarketing and wire fraud.
Health Care Fraud
The FBI was provided funding on a reimbursable basis to address health care fraud issues. Through this funding, the FBI allocates agents to specifically address health care fraud issues. In FY 2004, the FBI allocated 420 reimbursable agent positions towards this endeavor. However, our review of FBI agent utilization data showed that the FBI used approximately 380 agents for health care fraud matters.
In its April 2005 report, the GAO noted the FBI’s failure to utilize agents at the level at which it was being reimbursed. In its response to this finding, the FBI stated that its health care fraud investigative effort included other costs besides agent salaries. Nonetheless, the FBI overestimated the number of agents it would dedicate to health care fraud matters by over 40 positions. At our exit conference, the FBI provided evidence that it increased its efforts related to health care fraud in FY 2005 compared to FY 2004.
Since 9/11, the FBI significantly reduced the number of agents working on drug-related matters. Consequently, the FBI has opened fewer drug-related cases and has submitted fewer drug-related criminal matters to the USAOs in FY 2004 than it had in FY 2000. Specifically, our analysis of USAO data revealed that the FBI had submitted almost 1,600 fewer drug-related criminal matters to the USAOs in FY 2004 than it had in FY 2000. Other federal law enforcement agencies, particularly the DEA and ATF, increased the number of drug trafficking matters that they referred to the USAOs between FYs 2000 and 2004. However, these increases did not fully compensate for the overall decrease in drug-related matters referred to the USAOs. The DEA field managers we interviewed stated that their drug-related efforts had not been negatively affected by the FBI’s reprioritization in the large metropolitan areas, but some of these officials were concerned that an investigative gap existed in smaller population centers surrounded by rural areas. Many of the state and local law enforcement officials we interviewed noted that their operations had not been adversely affected by the FBI’s change in priorities.
Gang-related crime is a serious problem in many jurisdictions. Numerous federal agencies, in addition to many local law enforcement departments, investigate gang-related criminal activity. With multiple agencies involved, communication and coordination are essential to effectively investigating gang crime. The Chicago law enforcement community has established a working group that meets monthly to discuss each agency’s gang investigations, to share gang-related intelligence, and to formulate a comprehensive gang strategy. All federal and local agencies in the Chicago area that address gang crime participate in these meetings. In other cities, however, we discovered an uncoordinated approach in gang matters among the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. FBI field division managers in other cities indicated that coordination meetings would benefit the fight against gangs in their jurisdictions.
At our exit conference, the FBI informed us of a new DOJ initiative, led by the USAOs, aimed at improving coordination, increasing information sharing, and reducing duplication of efforts in combating gangs. In July 2005, the FBI promulgated guidance on this anti-gang initiative to its field offices and directed them to work with the local USAOs in implementing the new strategy.
The FBI’s reprioritization process involved assessing the criminal areas in which the FBI has concurrent jurisdiction with other federal law enforcement agencies and deciding which of these areas were appropriate for reduction of FBI involvement. One of these areas is the apprehension of fugitives, where responsibility is shared with the USMS. FBI agent utilization data demonstrates that the FBI significantly reduced its involvement in fugitive-related matters over the past four years, partly because of the work of the USMS in this area. However, a notable lack of coordination between the FBI and the USMS exists in the fugitive apprehension arena.
Despite the priority status of public corruption cases, our review disclosed that public corruption was addressed by the FBI at a slightly reduced level in FY 2004 compared to FY 2000. Additionally, we found that the FBI’s largest field office, the New York City Division, only recently evaluated its public corruption needs in light of the offense’s priority status within the FBI. According to the FBI, it has established an initiative to ensure that all field offices are appropriately prioritizing public corruption matters. Further, at our exit conference the FBI provided evidence that it had significantly increased its public corruption efforts in FY 2005 compared to FY 2004.
Both FBI and non-FBI officials we interviewed agreed that the FBI is no longer addressing bank robberies at the same level as in the past. In a few instances, we were informed of bank robbery caseloads that were exceeding state and local law enforcement capabilities. The FBI’s diminished involvement in this crime area is consistent with the FBI’s bank robbery “measured response” policy established in March 2001, which was designed to scale back the FBI’s involvement in bank robbery investigations and focus its involvement on violent, serial, or take-over style acts. In most field offices, we found that the FBI adhered to the measured response policy, which continues to be in existence.
The crime of identity theft is an increasing problem in the United States. Several local law enforcement officials reported that their agencies do not have the ability or jurisdictional authority to effectively address this crime. Several federal agencies, including the FBI, are involved in combating identity theft. However, our review revealed that the federal investigative response to these matters is often uncoordinated and local law enforcement officials said they are, at times, confused about which agency to turn to for assistance. Overwhelmingly, local law enforcement agencies conveyed the need for the development of a federal strategy to combat identity theft at all levels of law enforcement.
Operational Coordination with ICE
Because the FBI and ICE share responsibility for investigating several crimes, coordination of operations involving such shared authority is important to the effective use of both agencies’ resources. In our discussions with FBI and ICE field managers, we identified three criminal areas in which these agencies need to improve their coordination and communication: (1) child pornography, (2) alien smuggling, and (3) human trafficking. At the exit conference, FBI officials informed us that they are working with ICE on a memorandum of understanding related to alien smuggling and human trafficking matters. This agreement has not been finalized.
During our discussions with FBI field managers, we identified a practice that the FBI should consider in other FBI field divisions. Law enforcement officials in Phoenix and Chicago hold monthly meetings of operations management personnel from various agencies. All participants with whom we met believed these meetings were useful in fostering communication and the sharing of information. Additionally, FBI managers at other field divisions stated that such meetings were not taking place in their jurisdictions but believed that the meetings would be beneficial.