Significant Inaccuracies Found in Terrorism Stats
(CN) - A government audit of the Justice Department's terrorism-related statistics revealed that all were inaccurately reported, and most were significantly inflated.
Five years ago, the Office of the Inspector General found problems with the Justice Department's reporting of terrorism-related statistics and advised it to revise its internal controls.
This year's follow-up audit was intended to determine if the Department's corrective actions improved the accuracy of its statistics.
Auditors selected 11 of the 39 statistics to thoroughly test, including the number of terrorism-related cases filed, the number of defendants convicted at trial or by guilty plea, and the number of defendants sentenced to prison.
But, instead of improvement, the audit found that the Department "inaccurately reported all 11 statistics we reviewed during this follow-up audit. Most of these 11 statistics were inaccurately reported by significant margins."
For example, the statistic reporting the number of terrorism-related defendants judged guilty in 2009 was inflated 13 percent, and 26 percent in 2010. The number of terrorism-related defendants sentenced to prison in 2010 was overstated by 19 percent.
In addition, the auditors found cases in each category that were incorrectly coded as terrorism/national security case, and should not have been included at all.
"In response to these findings, EOUSA [Executive Office for United States Attorneys] officials told us that to the extent cases are overstated in one year due to untimely data entry, these cases are correspondingly understated in previous years in which the cases should have been reported," the audit said.
The inaccurate reporting was due mainly to the EOUSA's failure to allow a lag time at the end of the fiscal year to give U.S. Attorney's Offices time to enter backlogged case data, a lack of clear definitions for how some statistics should be reported, and delays in data-entry due to its lack of prioritization, auditors found.
"USAO officials told us that this problem had occurred because they placed a higher priority on opening and prosecuting cases, had limited staff, were under tight time constraints, and did not provide case files to staff for docketing in a timely manner," the audit said.
In the U.S. Attorney's 2012 budget submission to Congress, the Justice Department reported that 168 defendants were sentenced to prison for terrorism-related crimes in 2010. But in a review of 56 of these cases, auditors found that one defendant was sentenced in 2007, and eight were sentenced in 2009.
"Through our audit testing, we did not identify deficiencies in the EOUSA's internal controls that were significant within the context of the audit objectives and that, based upon the audit work performed, we believe would adversely affect EOUSA's ability to effectively and efficiently operate, to correctly state financial information, and to ensure compliance with laws and regulations.
"However, we did identify weaknesses regarding the EOUSA's controls over the reporting of terrorism-related statistics that have resulted in significant inaccuracies when reporting some of these statistics. EOUSA officials acknowledged these discrepancies and expressed interest in strengthening their processes," the audit concluded.