Justice Department’s progress in meeting performance goals criticized

The Justice Department's progress in reducing drug use and keeping the nation's borders secure was difficult to gauge because the agency failed to clearly link performance measures and outcomes in its fiscal 2000 performance report, according to the General Accounting Office. GAO praised Justice for comparing actual performance with projected performance and for explaining why certain goals were not achieved. But the watchdog agency criticized the department for failing to set performance targets for certain measures related to reducing drug use and cracking down on illegal immigration. Justice's fiscal 2001 budget was more than $24 billion and its missions range from policing the nation's borders to helping state and local agencies improve their crime-fighting strategies. The department's responsibilities are divided among several agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the U.S Marshals Service. Under the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act, agencies must have strategic plans and prepare annual performance plans and reports. Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., asked GAO to assess the largest federal agencies' fiscal 2000 performance reports and determine how well agencies were achieving their key goals. Thompson has said that this second round of performance reports still does not provide an adequate picture of agencies' performance. Justice's performance goals for fiscal 2001 were to reduce drug- and gang-related violence; to reduce the availability and use of illegal drugs; to ensure timely, fair, and high-quality services from INS; and to keep U.S. borders secure from illegal immigration. The department argued that setting performance targets for some measures-including reducing drug- and gang-related violence-could lead to the public perception that it is pursuing arbitrary targets just to meet particular goals. Justice also disputed GAO's assertion that part of the agency's mission is to reduce the availability and use of illegal drugs. Rather, Justice said, the department is focused on cracking down on drug trafficking and dismantling drug cartels. GAO insisted the two goals were related, and that Justice needs to set a performance target for reducing illegal drug use and availability. "If drug trafficking organizations are disrupted and dismantled, clearly this will affect the availability of drugs on the street," said the report, "Department of Justice: Status of Achieving Key Outcomes and Addressing Major Management Challenges" (GAO-01-729). Justice also failed to include a performance target or explain the rationale behind a new measure related to reducing illegal immigration in six areas along the U.S.-Mexican border, according to GAO. Janis A. Sposato, acting assistant attorney general for administration at Justice, said the data included in the fiscal 2000 performance report on the new measure "clearly depict the results of our efforts" and that GAO's critique was "particularly discouraging" for the those managers who had developed the measure. GAO reported that Justice fell short of achieving its performance targets for conducting criminal background checks and processing naturalization applications for immigrants. Justice performed 4.49 million criminal background checks in fiscal 2000; its target was 4.81 million. The department failed to meet its goal of processing each naturalization application within six months in fiscal 2000. But historical data in Justice's performance report shows the department's average case processing time has shrunk from 27 months per case in fiscal 1998 to eight months in fiscal 2000.

Justice's fiscal 2002 performance plan contained goals and measures related to human capital and information security, and the fiscal 2000 performance report discussed the progress the agency has made in addressing these management challenges. But the performance plan did not discuss how Justice plans to use human capital strategies to achieve certain results, such as efficient processing of naturalization applications, said GAO.

GAO reported that Justice did not discuss major management challenges including internal control weaknesses at DEA or restructuring INS in its performance report.

Justice said that it omitted information related to those management challenges that were not addressed in its fiscal 2000 performance plan. The department also noted that its fiscal 2002 performance plan addressed some management challenges left out of the performance report.

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