Report 2000-012 Summary - November 2000

Department of Justice:

Recent Improvements in Its Monitoring, Staffing, and Accounting of the California Witness Protection Program Meet Our Previous Recommendations

RESULTS IN BRIEF

In February 1999, the Bureau of State Audits (bureau) issued a report concluding that the State's Department of Justice (department) lacked certain administrative controls over its California Witness Protection Program (CWPP). In a follow-up report issued in November 1999, the bureau stated that although the department had taken steps to address our previous recommendations, it still needed to tighten some controls over the CWPP to prevent problems from arising, especially as more witnesses come under its protection. Our current audit examines the actions the department has taken since then to implement the recommendations.

Through the CWPP, district attorneys' offices can encourage key witnesses to testify in state criminal justice proceedings by offering to shield them from intimidation by those associated with criminal activity. The CWPP covers the costs the district attorneys incur for services such as relocating witnesses, changing their identities, and providing them with food and housing.

To ensure the accuracy of its work and the propriety of its decisions, the CWPP has established a formal review process for approving district attorneys' applications and reimbursement requests. A division manager now has final approval of all program applications and reviews each reimbursement request prior to payment. In the past, the program analyst's decisions on applications and reimbursement requests were generally not subject to management review.

The department has also seen that staffing at the CWPP is now sufficient to perform current program activities. In the past, the CWPP had only one full-time program analyst who had to work overtime to process applications and reimbursement requests. We were concerned that, as the CWPP grew, the overtime would become excessive or essential work would be delayed. The addition of a part-time employee has reduced the amount of overtime the analyst works.

The department has also begun to perform periodic field audits to ensure that district attorneys' offices are claiming only allowable costs and are using the CWPP consistently. As of October 2000, it had completed five audits, and it plans to complete three more by December 31, 2000. In addition, the CWPP has developed procedures to periodically reconcile program and accounting records for all CWPP transactions to determine that reimbursements to district attorneys' offices are prompt and accurate.

Finally, as recommended in our prior audits, the CWPP updated its policies and procedures manual to clarify requirements for meal receipts and housing deposits. While conducting field audits, the department found it was impractical to collect all meal receipts from each witness. In addition, the department concluded that district attorneys' offices had been unable to successfully track and reclaim amounts paid for deposits. Thus, the department has proposed further revisions to the CWPP manual, setting a monthly food allowance for witnesses, without requiring receipts, and establishing a $750 limit for monitoring and collecting housing deposits. We agree that a monthly allotment for food and a deposit limit are needed and believe that the currently proposed amounts are reasonable.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The department has implemented the recommendations from our two previous audit reports. However, to ensure that the CWPP continues to fulfill its responsibilities efficiently, we recommend the following:

  • The CWPP should periodically review established program rates, such as monthly food allowances and the follow-up limit for collection of housing deposits, and make adjustments as needed.

  • The department should continue to ensure that staffing at the CWPP remains adequate.
Because the department now has sufficient controls to ensure the propriety of the CWPP's expenditures, we believe we no longer need to do annual audits of the CWPP. We recommend that the Legislature direct the department to provide us with an annual report on its operations, including the number of cases and related expenditures, a summary of its audits of district attorneys' offices, changes in program requirements, and the status of continuing implementation of our recommendations. Further, we recommend that the Legislature direct us to follow up on any areas of concern that arise from their annual report and to perform a follow-up audit of the CWPP in five years to ensure that the department continues to administer it appropriately.

AGENCY COMMENTS

The department agrees with our recommendations and has indicated it is taking steps to implement them.


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