Asset Forfeiture Programs

Gao ID: HR-93-17 December 1, 1992

Many GAO audit reports have spotlighted the effect of management failures in the federal government--waste, inefficiency, and even scandal. Political leaders have been forced to spend too much time reacting to surprises like the Department of Housing and Urban Development debacle rather than doing the work the agencies were created to do. GAO began its high-risk program to identify those high-dollar government programs most vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. This report is part of the program's high-risk series of reports, which examine the federal government's efforts to identify and correct problems in 17 especially vulnerable areas, fall into three main categories: lending and insuring, contracting, and accountability. Many of the root causes of the problems afflicting these government programs are traceable to the absence of fundamental processes and systems. GAO urges that future congressional oversight focus on the agency reports and audited financial statements required by the Chief Financial Officers Act, agency management's progress in correcting material weaknesses in program internal control and accounting systems, and federal agency efforts to develop and implement performance standards. The Comptroller General summarized the high-risk series in testimony before Congress; see: Government Management--Report on 17 High-Risk Areas, by Charles A. Bowsher, Comptroller General of the United States, before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. GAO/T-OCG-93-2, Jan. 8, 1993 (22 pages).

GAO found that: (1) legislative changes allowing more seizures and forfeitures increased Justice's and Customs' seized property inventories by almost 600 percent by 1992; (2) Congress established special funds with proceeds from asset sales to pay asset forfeiture-related expenses; (3) in 1987, Justice and Customs established policies to minimize the unnecessary holding of cash by speeding up the deposit of cash not needed in Treasury accounts; (4) Justice and Customs have developed systems to improve information handling needed for decision making; (5) a 1990 legislative change allowed the agencies to process all uncontested forfeitures administratively rather than judicially, which sped up the process considerably; (6) Justice and Customs have agreed to a pilot test of consolidating their postseizure management and disposition of noncash seized property inventories; (7) Justice and Customs are developing joint asset-sharing guidelines and oversight policies and procedures in response to asset-sharing concerns expressed by state and other officials; and (8) Justice has increased its use of title searches in seizing real property to protect owners' property rights.

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