Federal Agents Say Turf Wars Have Negatively Affected Investigations

One-third of federal agents surveyed by a government oversight agency have gotten into turf wars with other federal law enforcement agencies during the course of an investigation during the past five years. Of those who experienced disagreements, 78 percent said those disagreements negatively affected the investigation to some degree, according to a report released Monday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).The GAO randomly surveyed 315 field agents who work for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) — all components of the Justice Department. Those four agencies have overlapping jurisdiction when it comes to drugs, gang violence, firearms, explosives, arson and fugitive apprehension.

According to the GAO survey, 24 percent of the agents who reported negative consequences over agency squabbles said a fugitive wasn’t apprehended because of disagreements. Majorities of those who reported negative consequences said the turf wars resulted in prolonged investigations, low morale, the unnecessary use of resources and the unwillingness of components to work with each other.

Overall, 27 percent of agents said that within the past 5 years they become aware of instances where they did not receive relevant information from another DOJ law enforcement component related to the investigation. But the majority of agents told the GAO that they think they were clear on the roles and responsibilities of their agency.

As TPM reported in August, a top DOJ official ordered the ATF and FBI to end squabbles at the scenes of explosives incidents, where both agencies share jurisdiction. In response to the latest report, Assistant Attorney General for Administration Lee Loftus wrote to the GAO that new explosives protocol “provides clear guidance to the ATF and FBI on how to better coordinate and has already resulted in unprecedented cooperation between the two components.”

But the report still found that just 45 percent of FBI agents surveyed were “very clear” on the bureau’s role in explosives investigations. DOJ’s Loftus said the GAO “could have better highlighted the department’s ongoing efforts to enhance working relationships among the law enforcement components as well as the ongoing and significant collaboration between the components that presently exists.”

The new GAO recommended that DOJ “assess options to better identify and diagnose disagreements in the field and take action to limit the negative impacts from disagreements over jurisdictional overlap for some criminal investigations.”