Report 2001-013 Summary - December 2001

Department of Justice:

It Continues to Use the Improvements It Made to the California Witness Protection Program

HIGHLIGHTS

The Department of Justice (department) continues to use improvements it made to the California Witness Protection Program (CWPP) as a result of our previous recommendations. These improvements include:

  • Establishing a formal review process for approving program applications.

  • Ensuring that staffing is sufficient to perform program activities.

  • Performing field audits of district attorneys' offices participating in the CWPP.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

In February 1999 the Bureau of State Audits issued a report concluding that the State's Department of Justice (department) lacked certain administrative controls over its California Witness Protection Program (CWPP). In two follow-up reports issued in November 1999 and November 2000, we reported that the department had begun addressing our recommendations to tighten some controls over the CWPP to prevent problems from arising, especially as more witnesses came under its protection. Our current audit examines any additional actions the department has taken and monitors its continued implementation of our 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 people 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. As of September 2001, district attorneys from 42 counties had 420 open cases for which they could receive CWPP funding.

To ensure the accuracy of its work and the propriety of its decisions, the CWPP has a formal review process for approving district attorneys' applications and reimbursement requests. A division manager must give final approval for all CWPP applications and must review each reimbursement request before payment. Until the CWPP implemented this formal review process in December 1999, one program analyst made all decisions on applications and reimbursement requests, usually without management review. The department has also seen that staffing at the CWPP generally continues to be sufficient to perform current program activities.

The department also performs field audits to ensure that district attorneys' offices are claiming only allowable costs and are using the CWPP consistently. As of August 2001 the department had completed eight audits and is currently in the process of conducting another. In addition, the CWPP has developed reconciliation procedures to help ensure that reimbursements to district attorneys' offices are accurate and prompt.

Finally, the CWPP updated its policies and procedures manual in January 2000, clarifying requirements for meal receipts and housing deposits. The department has drafted additional changes to its policies and procedures manual that have not yet been finalized. Further, as anticipated in our November 2000 report, in March 2001 the department issued a policy letter to establish a $750 minimum threshold for housing deposits before it requires district attorneys to monitor and recover the deposits from witnesses.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The department has implemented the recommendations from our previous audit reports. 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 the follow-up limit for the recovery of housing deposits, and make adjustments as needed.

  • The department should continue to ensure that CWPP staffing remains adequate to process applications and reimbursements promptly.
Because the department now has sufficient controls to ensure that CWPP expenditures are proper, we believe our annual audits of the CWPP are no longer needed. We recommend that the Legislature direct the department to provide us with an annual report on its operations and the status of continuing implementation of our recommendations. Further, we suggest that the Legislature direct us to investigate any areas of concern that arise from the annual report and, to ensure that the department continues to administer the program appropriately, have us perform a follow-up audit of the CWPP in five years.

AGENCY COMMENTS

The department has indicated it is currently addressing our recommendations, but it does not believe that the CWPP's current staffing level is adequate to run the program efficiently.


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