Report 98024 Summary - February 1999
Department of Justice:
Has Taken Appropriate Steps To Implement the California Witness Protection Program, but Additional Controls Are Needed
RESULTS IN BRIEF
Shielding witnesses from intimidation by those associated with criminal activity, the California Witness Protection Program (CWPP) assists district attorneys' offices by encouraging key individuals to testify in state criminal justice proceedings. The CWPP, which the State's Department of Justice (department) administers, funds the costs the district attorneys incur to provide various services including relocating witnesses, changing their identities, and providing them with food and shelter. Established in 1997, the CWPP has had annual funding of $3 million.
Because the CWPP is a fairly new program, the department is still developing controls for approving witness applications and processing reimbursement requests from the district attorneys' offices. The department has already taken important steps, such as creating a policies and procedures manual, to ensure that all CWPP costs are appropriate and that only approved witnesses receive program services.
Responding to the unique nature of this program, which requires the protection of the identity and location of witnesses, the department does not require district attorneys' offices to submit traditional documentation of costs claimed, such as receipts and invoices, that would disclose this confidential information. However, because the CWPP also does not review these records at the district attorneys' offices, this lack of traditional documentation contributes to problems for the department with monitoring the propriety of witness expenses.
To make certain it spends only CWPP funds for appropriate services rendered for approved witnesses, the actions the department should take include the following:
- Establish a management review process at the department for the approval of CWPP applications and reimbursement requests. The department should also implement a process to ensure the prompt receipt of all applications and agreements. Further, the department should not approve payment for any claim that lacks crucial documentation.
- Ascertain the CWPP's staffing needs and train staff to back up the primary program analyst in case the analyst is absent from work.
- Complete periodic field audits to ensure that the district attorneys' offices only claim allowable costs and seek other funding sources before applying to the CWPP. The department should also make sure that the district attorneys' offices are following department policies consistently.
- Conduct a workshop to inform the district attorneys' offices about the department's administration of the CWPP and to develop procedures for potential situations before they arise. In addition, the department should clarify in its policies and procedures manual how district attorneys' offices should account for housing and utility deposits and witnesses' meal receipts.
The department generally agrees with our recommendations and believes it can make improvements in a number of areas our report identifies. However, the department has indicated that additional staff will be necessary to address some of our concerns.