Effective System of Justice, Strategic Objective Plan, Strategic Plan, 2000-2005

Gao ID: A82917 March 29, 2001

Spending on law enforcement issues continues to grow at the federal, state, and local levels. Federal spending was about $25 billion in fiscal year 1999, up from $10 billion just a decade ago. Most of the increase in spending has been to accommodate a shift in focus at the federal level from helping local governments control crime to emphasizing more distinct federal responsibilities, such as controlling illegal immigration. Notwithstanding the recent downturn in overall crime levels, the Congress and the public remain concerned and look to the federal government for leadership on how to bring crime under control. Specific areas of attention include preventing, detecting, and responding to domestic and transnational crime; controlling illegal drug use; deterring illegal immigration; providing an efficient federal judiciary; and controlling prison costs. GAO's strategic plan identifies four multiyear performance goals to support congressional and federal decisionmaking on controlling crime, illegal drug use, and illegal immigration and in administering federal court and prison systems. The following pages discuss the significance of the performance goals, the key efforts that will be undertaken, and the potential outcomes. Performance Goals: (1) Identify ways to improve federal agencies' response to crime; (2) Assess the effectiveness of federal programs to control illegal drug use; (3) Identify ways to administer our nation's immigration laws more efficiently and effectively; and (4) Assess the administrative efficiency and effectiveness of the federal courts and prison system.

(1) Crime is one of the foremost concerns of the American public. To address this concern, the Congress has, among other initiatives, made many crimes federal offenses and increased the budgets of the departments of Justice and the Treasury to investigate and prosecute them. The Congress has also made billions of dollars available to states and localities through grants and other assistance to help them prevent and combat violent crime, drug trafficking, and juvenile delinquency. Other federal law enforcement initiatives include improving gun control, enforcing the civil rights laws, maximizing the use of asset seizure and forfeiture authority, and strengthening the Customs Service's enforcement of trade laws. How well federal law enforcement agencies respond to crime and work with their state and local counterparts is a continuing concern, particularly given the substantial budget increases in nearly every facet of law enforcement operations. Similarly, how well federal law enforcement agencies work with their foreign counterparts is of growing importance given the increasing opportunities for criminal enterprises to operate transnationally. (2) The Congress is participating actively in the debate over the strategy our nation should pursue to reduce the use of illegal drugs, a criminal activity that is estimated to cost the United States about $110 billion per year. Over 50 federal agencies are involved in carrying out the National Drug Control Strategy at an annual cost of almost $18 billion. Despite this investment, the demand for and supply of illegal drugs have persisted at very high levels throughout the 1990s and have continued to adversely affect American society in terms of social, economic, and health costs, as well as through drug-related violent crime. As a result, nearly every appropriations subcommittee and several of the legislative and oversight committees have been involved in various attempts to provide congressional guidance. (3) The Immigration and Naturalization Service, the largest federal law enforcement agency, has undergone dramatic growth in recent years. Its fiscal year 1999 budget of $3.9 billion represents an increase of almost 160 percent over its fiscal year 1993 budget, reflecting the Congress's and the administration's concern over the effects of legal and illegal immigration on this country. INS has estimated that there were about 5 million illegal aliens residing in the United States in October 1997, and that their numbers have been increasing at an average rate of 275,000 per year since October 1992. Recently, the Congress has addressed such issues as securing the country's borders, expediting the removal of illegal aliens, strengthening interior enforcement of immigration laws, reforming the naturalization process, controlling immigrants' entitlements to welfare benefits, and adjusting the level of visas for temporary agricultural and "high-tech" workers. In addition, there have been proposals to restructure the federal immigration system to resolve persistent management problems at INS. (4) Increasing the judiciary's major asset-- judges--in response to rising caseloads is expensive. Each new district court or court of appeals judgeship costs about $900,000 to create and more than $700,000 annually to support. How well the judiciary uses its human capital affects not only the judiciary, but also executive branch agencies and private litigants in a variety of important ways. With respect to the prison system, the federalization of crimes, mandatory minimum sentencing, and the war on drugs have resulted in prison crowding--despite massive prison construction programs in the 1990s. The cost to the public of these policies--once assumed to be a fair price to pay for reduced crime--will be under increased scrutiny as it becomes a more substantial portion of the budget.

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