The federal office that oversees allocation of resources to the 94 U.S. Attorney offices nationally has no objective process to determine staffing levels, uses unreliable data and is unable to reallocate jobs between districts, according to an audit report released Tuesday by the Office of Inspector General (pdf).
The Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA), which manages and advises on Justice Department resource allocation, was not available to respond to the report's criticisms due to the Veteran's Day holiday office closures.
The U.S. Attorneys' offices employ 5,381 lawyers and 5,921 support staff nationally, with a total fiscal year 2008 budget of $2 billion, managed by EOUSA, according to the OIG audit.
The 164-page audit examined statistics from criminal and civil prosecutions between fiscal years 2003 and 2007, but focused primarily on criminal operations.
It found that EOUSA ran into opposition from local U.S. Attorneys if it recommended moving underutilized prosecutor positions to districts with staff shortages.
The opposition came despite wide deviations between several districts in the average caseload per criminal attorney. The report cited an average caseload in fiscal year 2007 of 22 per attorney in the largest districts. But the large District of Arizona and Western District of Texas had an average of 50 cases per attorney, while the similarly sized District of Columbia had three cases per attorney and the District of Massachusetts, 10 per lawyer.
The report did not indicate if some of the high caseload rate in border states is the result of large numbers of illegal border crossing cases and less complex immigration prosecutions.
The problem in assessing allocation of attorneys is exacerbated by poor data reporting to indicate where needs are greatest, according to the report.
"EOUSA does not have reliable and specific data to make fully informed resource allocation decisions and to use in reporting statistical data to others, including to the Attorney General and Congress," the report states.
Despite use of a Resource Allocation Working Group, composed of eight U.S. Attorneys, and several attempts in past years, the EOUSA has been unable to develop an objective process to determine appropriate staffing levels, nor has it developed a method for allocating resources among U.S. Attorneys.
The inspector general also found that the office does not routinely perform in-depth reviews of attorney utilization or types of cases handled or require detailed work-time reporting by line prosecutors.
Instead, the office relies on regional office visits by teams of lawyers every three to four years for its planning data.
Reliable case data is not kept and was so inconsistent in some areas that it showed that of the 555,000 criminal matters referred for prosecution between 2003 and 2007, records showed 35 percent were still awaiting a decision whether or not to prosecute. Nearly 30 percent had been pending more than three years, according to the EOUSA records.
But the records were simply not accurate, the report found.
"When we presented this information to EOUSA officials, they were surprised at the large number of pending matters, particularly the large number of cases in pending status for such long periods of time, and said they were unable to fully explain this data" without further review, the report states.
The OIG randomly selected 50 of the pending cases and found 44% were awaiting a decision to prosecute while 56 percent were not actually pending, but had been closed.
The findings raise "significant concerns" about the data used by EOUSA, the report states.
The report also identified substantial variations in cases that prosecutors chose to reject for prosecution.
It noted that in the Northern District of California, based in San Francisco, the U.S. Attorney had 296 terrorism-related matters referred during 2007 but accepted only 7 percent for prosecution. By contrast, if found that the 440 terrorism-related matters referred in the Middle District of Florida had a 52 percent rate of acceptance for prosecution.