Oversight of law enforcement programs at Interior lagging, report says

The Interior Department must centralize oversight of its disparate law enforcement programs to correct years of mismanagement and neglect, according to a report from the department's inspector general.

Law enforcement officers at the Interior Department's five bureaus often report to autonomous field managers who have little or no law enforcement training, resulting in "profound inconsistencies" in overall management and accountability, according to a report by the agency's inspector general released in March. This fragmented approach to management has threatened the ability of the department's law enforcement personnel to operate efficiently, particularly during a crisis, the report said.

"The level of discretion granted to local managers is so extreme that, in some instances, it utterly undermines the integrity of the program, and in others, it emasculates the law enforcement function entirely," said the report, which offered 25 recommendations for improving management of the department's law enforcement programs.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton, a former attorney general of Colorado, asked the inspector general's office in March 2001 to investigate management of law enforcement programs throughout the department.

The Interior Department has about 4,400 law enforcement officers, making it the third largest federal law enforcement organization, behind the Justice and Treasury Departments. The National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Park Police employ the most law enforcement officers in the department. The Indian Affairs, Land Management and Reclamation bureaus also have law enforcement officers.

Although the Interior Department had a law enforcement team that was responsible for providing guidelines and standards to each bureau, the office lacked leadership and adequate staff to enforce those guidelines, the IG report said. The leadership vacuum made law enforcement coordination among the separate bureaus difficult, if not impossible, the report said.

The inspector general recommended that the Interior Department appoint a deputy assistant secretary for law enforcement and security who would oversee a central law enforcement office and would report to the assistant secretary for policy, management and budget. The deputy assistant secretary would have authority over all law enforcement budgets within the Interior Department and would establish uniform guidance for each bureau to follow. Norton began putting this recommendation in place in October.

According to the report, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks magnified the department's problems in managing its law enforcement programs. "Of particular concern was the lack of coordination among the law enforcement components and the absence of a meaningful single point of contact that the secretary and her senior managers could depend upon for reliable information and advice," the report said.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, called the report "one of the most damning indictments of a federal law enforcement agency that I have ever read." Grassley has supported law enforcement reform in such federal agencies as the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The IG's report emphasized that mismanagement, and not the Interior Department's law enforcement officers, was to blame for the accountability problems.

"The overwhelming majority of law enforcement professionals in the Interior Department are capable and loyal officers who recognize that their programs are in need of considerable change," the report said. "They are simply looking for leadership from the department to assist them in their efforts to professionalize law enforcements within their bureaus."

The Interior Department pledged to correct its management mistakes and implement the inspector general's recommendations. "Secretary Norton is gratified by the inspector general's due diligence and recommendations," said spokesman Mark Pfeifle. The secretary like no other secretary before has put together a timeline for substantive ways to improve law enforcement at Interior." Norton created a panel in March to review the inspector general's recommendations.

In the last three years, the Interior Department has spent more than $1 million on assessments of its law enforcement programs by outside consultants. "The reports have been largely ignored and do little more than gather dust on a shelf," the inspector general's report said.

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