The U.S. Marshals Service's
Control Over Weapons and Laptop Computers

Report No. 02-29
August 2002
Office of the Inspector General


The Department of Justice (Department) maintains a large inventory of property that, if not properly controlled, could result in either a danger to the public (i.e., weapons), or could compromise national security or law enforcement activities (i.e., laptop computers).† In response to reports of significant losses at the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Attorney General expressed concern over the Departmentís ability to account for and safeguard this property.† As a result, he asked the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to conduct audits of the controls over the inventory of such property throughout the Department.† The OIG conducted separate audits of the controls over weapons and laptop computers at the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and the United States Marshals Service (USMS).2†This report covers the audit in the USMS.

Our audit objectives were to review the USMSís:† (1) actions taken in response to the identification of lost or stolen weapons and laptop computers, and (2) management controls over these types of equipment.† Additional information on our audit objectives, scope, and methodology is contained in Appendix I.


The USMS is responsible for providing federal court security, transporting prisoners and extradited criminals, apprehending fugitives, and protecting government witnesses.† The USMS employs 2,818 career law enforcement officers, 3,443 contract court security officers, and 1,300 managerial and administrative personnel.† Employees are assigned to USMS Headquarters3 in Arlington, Virginia; 94 District Offices across the U.S.; the Special Operations Group at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana; and a federal law enforcement training facility (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia.

USMS employees authorized to carry firearms (e.g., Marshals and Deputy Marshals) are required to carry an approved primary handgun while on duty and are authorized to carry the weapon while off duty.† In addition, they are allowed to carry an approved secondary handgun.† The use of personally owned weapons is allowed if the weapon is an approved make and model; personally owned weapons must be approved in writing by a USMS supervisor.† Each contract court security officer is issued a USMS owned handgun for use while on duty.† They are not authorized by the USMS to carry personally owned weapons while on duty or to carry their USMS firearms while off duty; they must turn in their USMS weapon at the end of each shift.† In addition to the individually assigned weapons, the USMS maintains a pool of additional weapons for assignment and use as needed.

As of August 28, 2001, the USMS reported that it had an inventory of 14,361 weapons and 1,450 laptop computers to assist its employees perform their law enforcement mission.† Weapons used by the USMS include revolvers, semi-automatic pistols, rifles, carbines, shotguns, tear gas guns, machine and submachine guns, stun guns, and stun belts.

The Departmentís Security and Emergency Planning Staff (SEPS) maintains records of the number of laptop computers each Department component has authorized for processing classified information.† According to SEPS, no laptop computers in the USMS are authorized to process classified information.† USMS officials confirmed that classified data is not processed on laptop computers.† The stored data on these computers could range from administrative records to sensitive law enforcement information.

USMS Property Management System

Office of Management and Budget Circular A-1234 requires federal agencies to:† (1) establish a management control system that provides reasonable assurance that assets are safeguarded against waste, loss, unauthorized use, and misappropriation; and (2) ensure that transactions are promptly recorded, properly classified, and accounted for in order to prepare timely accounts and reliable financial and other reports.† The Justice Property Management Regulations5 require Department components to issue detailed operating procedures to protect federal property against fraud, waste, and abuse.

The USMS guidelines for the general management of property are contained in its Policy and Procedures Manual, Volume IV, Administrative Services, Chapter 1, Property Management (Property Manual).6† Guidance specifically related to the management of weapons is contained in the Firearms Policy.7† According to these guidelines, USMS employees are responsible for the proper and reasonable care and safeguarding of property assigned to them or located in their work area.† An employee whose negligence causes the loss of USMS property may be subject to disciplinary action.

Property Definitions - The Property Manual classifies property into three categories:† expendable, non-expendable, and accountable.†Property that has a useful life of less than 1 year, is complete within itself,8 is consumed or loses its identity in use, or is considered to be a supply item (e.g., pens, pencils, and paper) is classified as expendable property.†Non-expendable property is defined as items with an initial acquisition value of less than $1,000, is complete within itself, and has a useful life of 1 year or longer.

Property with an initial acquisition value of $1,000 or more, is complete within itself, and has a useful life of 1 year or longer is considered accountable and is required to be recorded in the property management system.† Also included in this category is capitalized property that has an initial acquisition value of $25,000 or more and that must be posted to the general ledger and accounted for on the annual financial statements.† In addition, some specific types of property have been identified as accountable regardless of value or life expectancy.† These include projectile-launching devices (e.g., revolvers, rifles, and shotguns), firearms sighting equipment, and items with data storage capabilities (e.g., laptop computers).

Generally, the USMS categorizes laptop computers and weapons as accountable property.† According to USMS management, it also maintains a limited supply of stun guns and stun belts9; these are excluded from the accountable property category as they are classified as non-projectile launching devices that are non-lethal in nature.† The USMSís control of these potentially dangerous items is discussed further on page 20.

Property Management Personnel - The Office of Property Management (Property Office), within the Business Services Division, is responsible for ensuring reliable property management controls and accurate inventory records throughout the USMS.† Its responsibilities include disseminating relevant policies and procedures; coordinating property inventories; reviewing and approving property management transactions; and maintaining the automated property system to track the acquisition, movement, and disposal of property.†

The Property Office is staffed with a Chief (the official Property Management Officer for the USMS), four Property Management Specialists, one computer specialist, and three contract personnel.† All of the Property Management Specialists are certified by the National Property Management Association, a professional organization that provides education and testing in the area of asset management.† The certification requires individuals to be well versed in federal property management policies and is granted upon successful completion of a multiple-part written examination.

Within a USMS District Office or a Headquarters Unit, a management official, such as the Chief Deputy Marshal or Division Chief, is designated as the Property Custodian and is ultimately responsible for all property within that organizational unit.† This individual may then appoint a Property Officer to maintain the property records and files, often as a collateral duty.† Each unit or office holding firearms also has a Weapons Custodian responsible for maintaining and verifying property records related to weapons.† According to Property Office personnel, field level Property Officers are not required to receive property management-related training, but are encouraged to do so. All four local Property Officers we interviewed during the audit had attended training provided by the Property Office.

Automated System - The USMS official automated property management system, ARGIS, was designed to record all accountable and capitalized property management transactions, maintain property location (by office or unit), and provide various property management reports.† The Justice Management Division, the administrative arm of the Department, acquired ARGIS and the USMS began using it in 1999.† Use of ARGIS within the USMS is currently centralized and limited to staff in the Property Office; however, plans are underway to provide District Offices with access.†

According to Property Office personnel, contract employees execute approximately 40,000 ARGIS updates each year, including additions, transfers, disposals, and corrections.† USMS officials added that it is their policy to perform weekly quality checks of data entries.

Prior Reviews

The OIG previously audited the USMSís management of property in 1997.10† That audit found that all firearms selected from the official property records could be located.† However, the report identified firearms that were not included in the official system, a significant number of other items that could not be located, and inventories that were not performed timely.† Further, we found that the accounting and property systems were not integrated.† In response to the auditís recommendations, the USMS implemented ARGIS.

The USMS Program Review Team performs internal reviews of property management functions at District Offices during its regular internal inspections.† Generally, Headquarters Units are reviewed upon request from a management official.† The reviews include evaluating property management controls, reviewing property assignments and physical inventory documents, and testing property records.† We examined the most recent reviews for the District Offices audited11 and identified findings related to physical inventories, the completeness of property records, and hand receipts.

Audit Approach

We obtained from the USMS a listing of weapons and laptop computers identified as lost or stolen between October 1, 1999, and August 28, 2001.† We reviewed the circumstances surrounding each loss and assessed the USMSís actions to report and investigate those items.† Further, we looked for indications that the lost property resulted in physical harm to the public or compromised national security or investigative information.† Our conclusions from the above analyses are presented in Finding I, and Appendices II and III contain a summary of our results.

We also reviewed the USMSís management controls over the purchase, receipt and assignment, inventory, and disposal of USMS-issued laptop computers and weapons.† We then assessed these controls by reviewing property management activities at Headquarters and selected field locations.† At each site, we:† (1) evaluated relevant property management controls, (2) reviewed documentation practices, and (3) physically inspected property.† We also tested, on a sample basis, the accuracy and completeness of the property records.† The results of the above analyses are presented in Finding II; Appendix IV shows the distribution of the sampled property.


  1. We did not repeat our March 2001 audit of the INSís management of property.
  2. Organizationally, USMS Headquarters is divided into eight Divisions and numerous sub-offices, referred to as Headquarters Units.

  3. Management Accountability and Control, dated June 21, 1995.
  4. Department of Justice Order (DOJ Order) 2400.3, dated August 6, 1998.
  5. Edition 2, issued March 10, 1993.
  6. USMS Policy Directive 01-10, issued May 25, 2001.
  7. For an item to be complete within itself, it must not be a component part of another item.
  8. Stun guns are devices that direct an electrical charge that can disorient, temporarily immobilize, and stun a person without causing permanent injury.† Stun belts similarly stun and temporarily immobilize a person by transmitting an electrical charge through a belt-like restraining device activated via remote control.
  9. Office of the Inspector General (OIG) Audit Report number 97-12, "USMS Management of Property and Capitalized Assets," dated April 1997.
  10. The Headquarters Units audited had not been subjected to an internal review during our audit period.