oversight

Law Enforcement Body Armor: DOJ Supports Its Use and Enhancements, but Could Strengthen Management of Its Related Grant Programs

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-02-15.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                               United States Government Accountability Office

GAO                            Testimony
                               Before the Committee on the Judiciary,
                               U.S. Senate


                               LAW ENFORCEMENT
For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EST
Wednesday, February 15, 2012

                               BODY ARMOR
                               DOJ Supports Its Use and
                               Enhancements, but Could
                               Strengthen Management of
                               Its Related Grant Programs
                               Statement of David C. Maurer, Director
                               Homeland Security and Justice




GAO-12-448T
Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Grassley, and Members of the
Committee:

I am pleased to be here to discuss the findings of our report being publicly
issued today assessing the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) body armor
initiatives. 1 Nationwide, nearly 60 law enforcement officers were killed in
2010 after firearm-related assaults, but recent data show that body armor
has saved the lives of more than 3,000 law enforcement officers since
1987. Recognizing body armor as an effective tool in helping to protect
law enforcement officers, DOJ—through its Bureau of Justice Assistance
(BJA) and its National Institute of Justice (NIJ)—has implemented
initiatives, such as direct grants to states and localities to support their
body armor use, as well as research and testing for compliance with
standards to continuously improve body armor effectiveness. These
initiatives have involved internal and external stakeholders, including law
enforcement components within DOJ; components within the Department
of Commerce and the Department of Defense (DOD) 2 that conduct
related body armor research; and private entities, such as those that
manufacture and assist in testing body armor.

My testimony this morning will address the key findings from the body
armor report that we are issuing today. Like that report, my statement will
address (1) the body armor efforts that DOJ has under way, (2) the extent
to which DOJ has designed internal controls to manage and coordinate
these efforts, and (3) factors that affect body armor use and effectiveness
and steps DOJ has taken to address them.

To conduct our work, we examined program data on BJA’s Bulletproof
Vest Partnership (BVP) program for fiscal years 1999 through 2011 as
well as its Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG)
program for fiscal years 2006 through 2011. These are DOJ’s two grant



1
 GAO, Law Enforcement Body Armor: DOJ Could Enhance Grant Management Controls
and Better Ensure Consistency in Grant Program Requirements, GAO-12-353
(Washington, D.C.: Feb. 15, 2012). For the purposes of this report, body armor includes
ballistic-resistant and stab-resistant vests. The former are designed to protect against
bullet penetrations and the trauma associated with bullet impacts. The latter are designed
to protect against stab weapon penetrations.
2
 For prior GAO work related to Army body armor test procedures, see GAO, Warfighter
Support: Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and
Procedures Needed Before Fielding, GAO-10-119 (Washington D.C.: Oct.16, 2009).




Page 1                                                                        GAO-12-448T
programs supporting state and local law enforcement’s purchases of body
armor. We also examined NIJ’s procedures for setting standards and
testing body armor for compliance with the standards and discussed with
NIJ its research and efforts to coordinate with other body armor
stakeholders. We interviewed officials from DOJ and 2 other federal
agencies—the Department of Commerce and DOD—6 body armor
manufacturers, 2 body armor testing laboratories, and 10 jurisdictions that
receive DOJ body armor funding. 3 In some of the jurisdictions, we also
interviewed male and female law enforcement officers who wear body
armor. Moreover, we reviewed literature on the factors that affect body
armor use and effectiveness and discussed these factors with the officials
that we interviewed. We assessed DOJ’s body armor policies and
granting efforts using standards for internal control in the federal
government and leading practices for grant management and stakeholder
coordination. 4 We conducted this work in accordance with generally
accepted government auditing standards. More detailed information on
the scope and methodology of our published report can be found therein. 5




3
 We selected nonprobability samples of these organizations. Unlike a random sample, a
nonprobability sample is more deliberatively chosen, meaning that some elements of the
population being studied have either no chance or an unknown chance of being selected
as part of the sample. Therefore, the views that the individuals in our samples expressed
provide valuable insight into body armor issues but are not generalizable. For the
purposes of our study, we selected these organizations because of their involvement in
body armor manufacturing, testing, research, and use and because of their size and
location.
4
 GAO, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1
(Washington, D.C.: November 1999); Grant Accountability Project, Guide to Opportunities
for Improving Grant Accountability (Washington D.C.: 2005); GAO, Results-Oriented
Government: Practices That Can Help Enhance and Sustain Collaboration among Federal
Agencies, GAO-06-15 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 21, 2005); and American National
Standards Institute, United States Standards Strategy (New York: Dec. 2, 2010).
5
GAO-12-353.




Page 2                                                                        GAO-12-448T
                      DOJ has a number of initiatives to support body armor use by state and
To Support Body       local law enforcement, including grant funding, research, standards
Armor Use, DOJ        development, and testing programs. Two separate BJA grant programs
                      provide funding to state and local law enforcement to facilitate their body
Provides Grant        armor purchases. The BVP program offers 2-year grants on a
Funding, Supports     reimbursable, matching basis to state and local law enforcement
Research, Sets        agencies to assist in their purchasing of ballistic-resistant and stab-
                      resistant body armor. 6 Generally, the JAG program provides 4-year grant
Standards, and        money up front that can be used to fund body armor procurement along
Conducts Compliance   with other criminal justice activities. 7 Since the BVP program’s inception
                      in 1999, it has reimbursed grantees $247 million for their purchases of
Testing               nearly 1 million vests. The JAG program has provided nearly $4 billion
                      from fiscal years 2006 through 2011, but BJA does not know how much of
                      this amount grantees have spent on body armor because it is not required
                      to track expenditures for specific purposes. Instead, BJA reports that from
                      fiscal years 2006 through 2011, 357 grantees intended to use JAG funds
                      for ballistic-resistant vest procurement, but it does not track how many
                      grantees intended to purchase stab-resistant vests.

                      NIJ sponsors body armor research, establishes body armor performance
                      standards, and oversees body armor testing for compliance. For example,
                      NIJ’s research has included studies to augment ballistic materials and
                      improve the fit of body armor. In addition, NIJ works with stakeholders
                      such as body armor users, researchers, and developers, when revising its
                      body armor performance standards. NIJ is aiming to finalize revisions to
                      its current stab-resistant body armor standard, originally established in
                      2000, by December 2012, and expects to update its ballistic-resistant
                      body armor standard, last revised in 2008, by November 2013. Lastly, NIJ
                      administers a program whereby manufacturers voluntarily submit their
                      body armor for testing against the pertinent NIJ standard. If the body
                      armor complies with the standard and NIJ approves it, NIJ includes the
                      body armor in its list of all NIJ-compliant vests. Jurisdictions that receive
                      BVP funding use this list to select body armor for purchase.


                      6
                       The program has generally funded, on a reimbursable basis, up to 50 percent of the cost
                      of body armor a jurisdiction purchases with its BVP funds. Particular exclusions to this rule
                      are discussed in GAO-12-353. Prior to 2008, the BVP program gave grantees up to 4
                      years to spend their awards.
                      7
                       For additional information on the JAG program, see GAO-12-353 as well as GAO,
                      Recovery Act: Department of Justice Could Better Assess Justice Assistance Grant
                      Program Impact, GAO-11-87 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 15, 2010).




                      Page 3                                                                          GAO-12-448T
                       DOJ has designed several controls, consistent with internal control
DOJ Has Designed       standards, to manage and coordinate BJA’s and NIJ’s body armor
Several Controls and   activities; however, we recommended five actions that BJA could take to
                       strengthen its practices over the BVP and JAG grant programs.
Coordination
Mechanisms for its     BJA designed controls for the BVP program to check the eligibility of
Body Armor             grantee payment requests, help prevent improper payments to grantees,
                       and ensure grantee compliance with program requirements. However,
Programs, but Could    BJA needs to take two key actions to improve the BVP program’s internal
Further Minimize       controls (1) improve the management of funds from closed grants, and
                       (2) expand information available to grantees on its key program
Management Risk        requirements. Specifically, we reported the following:

                       •    The BVP program has not deobligated about $27 million in balances
                            from grants awarded from fiscal years 2002 through 2009 whose
                            terms have ended and whose grantees are no longer eligible for
                            reimbursement. 8 Once a grant’s term has ended, a granting agency
                            typically closes out the grant and deobligates the funds. We have
                            previously reported that grant closeout is an important final point of
                            accountability for grantees, ensuring that they have met all program
                            requirements. 9 To strengthen fund management, BJA could
                            deobligate funds from grants that have closed and apply the amounts
                            to new awards or reduce requests for future budgets. Given that the
                            BVP program requested $30 million—and received about $23
                            million—in fiscal year 2012, deobligating this $27 million could have
                            significant benefits. 10 In response to our audit work, BVP program
                            officials told us that as of February 2012, they and their colleagues in
                            the Office of the Chief Financial Officer were in the process of
                            examining the $27 million available for possible deobligation and


                       8
                        A deobligation is the cancellation or downward adjustment of previously incurred
                       obligations.
                       9
                        See GAO, Grants Management: Attention Needed to Address Undisbursed Balances in
                       Expired Grant Accounts GAO-08-432 (Washington, D.C.: Aug. 29, 2008). In addition, the
                       DOJ Inspector General has reported on the importance of timely grant closeout. See DOJ
                       Office of the Inspector General, The Department of Justice’s Grant Closeout Process
                       Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General Audit Report 07-05 (December
                       2006).
                       10
                         The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012, Pub. L. No. 112-55,
                       125 Stat. 552, 616, provided $24 million to the BVP program for law enforcement armor
                       vests, including $1.5 million transferred directly to the National Institute of Standards and
                       Technology’s Office of Law Enforcement Standards for research, testing, and evaluation
                       programs.




                       Page 4                                                                          GAO-12-448T
     considering how to use it. However, DOJ had not yet made a final
     decision on this matter before we finalized our February 2012 report,
     and officials stated a decision likely would not be made until
     September 2012. Thus, we recommended that BJA deobligate
     undisbursed funds from grants in the BVP program that have closed.
     DOJ concurred with the recommendation and stated that in the
     absence of statutory restrictions stating otherwise, it intends to use
     the deobligated, undisbursed BVP program funds to supplement the
     appropriation amounts in fiscal years 2012 and 2013.

•    BVP program rules, such as those requiring that grantees maintain
     documentation of their vest purchases for 3 years, are not as well
     publicized as they could be. This information appears in “frequently
     asked questions” guides and is provided when grantees call for
     technical assistance in administering their grants. However, the
     requirements do not appear in the grantee instructional manual or in
     the online system that grantees and BJA use to manage the grant
     funds. Emphasizing the need to comply with grant award
     requirements and including clear terms and conditions in funding
     award documents are leading practices to improve grant
     accountability and fundamental to internal control standards. 11 We
     recommended that BJA expand information available to BVP grantees
     on the current program requirements for jurisdictions to retain
     documentation on all transactions for at least 3 years. DOJ concurred
     with the recommendation and stated that it will add language in the
     fiscal year 2012 BVP program requirements to address this issue.
We also made three recommendations for DOJ to improve controls over
the JAG program related to body armor. Specifically, we reported the
following:

•    The JAG program and the BVP program have different policies for the
     use and purchase of DOJ-funded body armor. Unlike the BVP
     program, the JAG program does not require that grantees purchasing
     body armor have policies in place mandating that officers wear the
     armor or that the grantees purchase body armor that is NIJ compliant.
     We have previously identified establishing mutually reinforcing
     strategies and compatible policies and procedures as key



11
 See GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1. See also, Grant Accountability Project, Guide to
Opportunities for Improving Grant Accountability.




Page 5                                                                      GAO-12-448T
     coordination practices. 12 Harmonizing requirements across the BVP
     and JAG programs could improve consistency in the department’s
     efforts to ensure law enforcement officers’ safety. To address this
     issue, we recommended that BJA establish requirements within the
     JAG program that grantees using the money for body armor
     purchases have written mandatory wear policies in place and that
     they purchase only body armor that is NIJ compliant. DOJ generally
     agreed with the recommendation. It stated that it had sufficient legal
     authority to establish these requirements in the JAG program, but
     noted that it plans to implement such requirements carefully to avoid
     impeding the ability of local jurisdictions to purchase ballistic
     equipment that does not have associated standards, such as K-9
     ballistic vests, and to accommodate other JAG program
     requirements. 13

•    BJA does not document its procedures to monitor JAG grantees’
     compliance with the requirement that recipients not use JAG funding
     toward the match portion of BVP grants they may also receive.
     Currently, BJA grant managers perform desk reviews, in which
     officials review grant documentation off-site, to assess grantees’
     compliance with general programmatic requirements. Documenting
     grant managers’ desk review procedures for monitoring compliance
     with this requirement would be consistent with standards for internal
     control in the federal government. In addition, such documentation
     could help ensure consistency in grant managers’ monitoring
     practices, which in turn could help BJA better ensure grantees’
     compliance with JAG program requirements. Therefore, we
     recommended that BJA document procedures for its desk reviews
     when it checks on compliance with program requirements. DOJ
     agreed in part with this recommendation, acknowledging the
     importance of close monitoring. However, DOJ stated that it did not
     believe desk reviews are the best mechanism for ensuring that
     grantees are separately tracking and administering JAG and BVP
     funds and stated that it would develop and institute additional controls




12
  See GAO, Results Oriented Government: Practices that Can Help Enhance and Sustain
Collaboration Among Government Agencies, GAO-06-15 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 21,
2005).
13
 K-9 ballistic vests are protective vests that dogs working with law enforcement officers
wear while on duty. Vests modified for K-9 units have not been tested by NIJ.




Page 6                                                                         GAO-12-448T
                            beyond desk reviews to ensure grantees’ compliance.

                        •   BJA has limited visibility over which JAG grantees intend to use their
                            awards for body armor purchases. Currently, BJA—along with several
                            other bureaus and offices within the department—uses an online
                            system, known as the Grants Management System, to track JAG
                            spending across more than 150 specific categories—each associated
                            with a “project identifier.” Although “bulletproof vest” is among the
                            project identifiers, no project identifier exists that could be used for
                            stab-resistant vests. BJA could enhance its tracking, consistent with
                            standards for internal control, to know which grantees intended to use
                            the JAG funds to purchase either type of body armor. With improved
                            tracking, program officials would be better positioned to target their
                            monitoring and ensure grantees’ compliance with existing or any
                            newly added body armor requirements. Thus, we recommended that
                            BJA establish a project identifier within the Grants Management
                            System to track stab-resistant body armor. DOJ concurred with this
                            recommendation and stated that it will add a project identifier for stab-
                            resistant vests during the fiscal year 2012 JAG program application
                            process.

                        There are multiple factors that affect body armor’s use and effectiveness,
Fit and Coverage Are    including
Some of the Factors
                            law enforcement agencies’ policies, such as those mandating wear;
Affecting Body Armor    •
                        •   the comfort; fit, and coverage of the vests;
Use and Effectiveness   •   degradation caused by wear and tear;
                        •   care and maintenance; and
and DOJ Has Related     •   exposure to environmental conditions.
Efforts to Address      For example, based on our interviews and research on these factors, we
These Factors           reported that body armor can create discomfort for an officer through
                        reduced mobility, increased weight, heat build up under the armor, and
                        chafing. As a result, such discomfort may cause an officer to discontinue
                        wearing the armor. In addition, if the body armor is poorly fitting, it can
                        create both discomfort and affect total coverage area. Further, designing
                        comfortable, well-fitting body armor for female law enforcement officers is
                        particularly challenging, according to the six body armor manufacturers in
                        our sample.

                        We also reported on the steps DOJ has taken to address these factors.
                        Among other efforts, DOJ has disseminated guidance and periodically
                        revised its standards and compliance test procedures to incorporate the



                        Page 7                                                            GAO-12-448T
                  latest technology. In particular, NIJ’s body armor guidance provides
                  information on elements of proper fit and advises agencies to inspect
                  body armor routinely to ensure proper fit. In addition, NIJ is funding a
                  study on the effect of body armor use on core body temperature to gain a
                  better understanding of comfort issues. NIJ is also funding the
                  development of test methods for assessing the performance of contoured
                  body armor designs for females and plans to discuss the issue of
                  including ergonomic or “wearability” test protocols as it considers
                  revisions of the ballistic-resistant body armor standard.

                  Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Grassley, and Members of the
                  Committee, this completes my prepared statement. I would be pleased to
                  respond to any questions that you may have at this time.


                  If you or your staff have any questions about this testimony, please
GAO Contact and   contact me at (202) 512-9627 or MaurerD@gao.gov. Contact points for
Staff             our Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found
                  on the last page of this statement. GAO staff who made key contributions
Acknowledgments   to this testimony are Joy Booth, Assistant Director; Juan Tapia-Videla,
                  Analyst-in-Charge; and Heather May. Additional contributions to our
                  detailed report include Lydia Araya, Ivelisse Aviles, Willie Commons III,
                  Katherine Davis, and Stanley Kostyla.




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                  Page 8                                                         GAO-12-448T
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