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Government Watchdog Adds BOP to List at “High Risk” of Mismanagement

by Kevin W. Bliss

In March 2023, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its bi-annual “high-risk list” of federal programs or operations that are susceptible to waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement. Added to the list this year was the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), mainly due to its inability to correct persistent staffing shortages.

GAO comptroller Gene Dodaro recently testified before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that BOP staffing issues have adversely affected the safety of both prisoners and guards, as well as compromising efforts to evaluate BOP programs aimed at reducing recidivism and prison overcrowding. Staffing has consistently run at least 15% below authorized levels for some time, he noted. BOP has changed directors six times in as many years.

In March 2021, GAO labeled BOP management an “emerging high-risk.” At that time, an audit was prepared with 50 recommendations provided to rectify critical issues. Thus far, only 22 of those recommendations have been addressed.

“Enhancing management of staff and resources, and improving the planning and evaluation of inmate programs, would allow BOP to more effectively deliver services, enhance its emergency preparedness and safety, determine if its investments are facilitating inmates’ successful reentry into the community, and effectively implement the First Step Act [FSA],” stated the GAO report. Simply getting measures in place that were authorized by FSA’s passage nearly five years ago “could reduce the amount of time inmates serve in prison, the recidivism among federally incarcerated, and costs to the U.S taxpayer.”

Current BOP director Colette Peters took over in August 2022. She said continuing staffing shortages remained one of her top priorities, along with improving employee wellness and agency accountability. “I regret our efforts since 2021 were not sufficient to prevent this placement on the high-risk list,” she stated in a press release. “However, I am confident the processes and procedures now in place will ensure future success. We have taken concrete steps that will not only meet but exceed the expectations of our external partners.” 

Source: Government Executive Magazine