Report 99024 Summary - December 1999

Department of Justice:

It Is Beginning to Address Our Recommendations to Improve Controls Over the California Witness Protection Program

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 controls over the California Witness Protection Program (CWPP), which it administers. Although the department has taken steps to address the recommendations in our prior audit report, the CWPP still lacks a few controls that could prevent problems from arising as more witnesses enter the program. Our current audit examines the actions the department has taken since then to implement the original recommendations.

The CWPP assists district attorneys' offices by encouraging key individuals to testify in state criminal justice proceedings because it can shield witnesses from intimidation by those associated with criminal activity. The CWPP covers the costs the district attorneys incur for services including relocating witnesses, changing their identities, and providing them with food and housing. The department had assigned only one program analyst to run the CWPP's daily operations.

To prevent potential backlogs in case approval and claims processing, the department has recently hired a temporary program analyst to assist the sole program analyst who runs the program. The department also plans to use the part-time analyst to review the primary analyst's work. However, consistent management oversight of the program, a necessary control, does not yet exist.

Because of the confidential nature of the CWPP, the department does not require district attorneys' offices to submit traditional documentation of costs claimed, such as receipts and invoices. 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. While the department has requested approval to hire an auditor for periodic field audits of district attorneys' compliance with the program, it has been unsuccessful and has completed no audits to date. The department has developed new forms to ensure that the district attorneys' offices, as well as approved witnesses, meet program requirements and that staff document the reasons for its accepting or denying applicants. However, the department is only in the initial stages of developing a process for periodic reconciliations between program and accounting records to determine if reimbursements to the district attorneys' offices for witness expenses were prompt and accurate.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To make certain it spends CWPP funds for only appropriate services rendered for approved witnesses, the department should take these actions:

  • Establish a formal management review process for approving CWPP applications and reimbursement requests.

  • Continue with plans to ensure adequate staffing for program and audit activities.

  • Perform periodic field audits to ensure that district attorneys' offices are claiming only allowable costs and administering the program consistently.

  • Continue with plans to develop and perform periodic reconciliations between program and accounting records to account for all CWPP transactions.
AGENCY COMMENTS

The department agrees with our recommendations and is continuing to take steps to implement them.


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