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April 2018
REGION: Global

In Combating Wildlife Trafficking: Opportunities Exist to Improve the Use of Financial Rewards, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO)—recognizing that wildlife trafficking is a large and growing transnational criminal activity with far-reaching environmental, security, and economic consequences—presents analysis to determine how and how effectively financial rewards are used for informants in wildlife trafficking cases. Because of the impact wildlife trafficking has, in 2014 the White House released a strategy to combat wildlife trafficking, which focuses partially on strengthening law enforcement. Financial rewards are one tool law enforcement can use to do so, hence GAO’s analysis on the use of financial rewards specifically. GAO analyzes U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Department of the Interior; and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Commerce; because of their ability to administer such rewards. To this end, GAO reviews laws, examines FWS and NOAA policies and public communications on rewards, analyzes agency reward data for fiscal years 2007 through 2017 and assesses their reliability, interviews FWS and NOAA officials, and compares agency policies and public communications on rewards to federal internal control standards. Based on this analysis, GAO makes seven recommendations to the FWS and NOAA summarized below. Both FWS and NOAA agreed with the recommendations and express in the report that they intend to move forward with them.

GAO finds that multiple laws authorize FWS and NOAA to pay rewards for wildlife trafficking information, but FWS and NOAA reported paying few rewards. Subsequently, GAO recommends that FWS and NOAA track financial reward information so that it is clearly documented and readily available for examination. Accordingly, FWS and NOAA are exploring revisions to their financial and law enforcement databases so that they may better identify and track rewards.

In the report, GAO also finds that while both FWS and NOAA have policies for administering reward payments, FWS’s policy is inconsistent with federal standards in that it does not specify factors that could inform agents in achieving the agency’s objectives. In contrast, NOAA’s policy specifies factors for its agents to consider in developing proposed reward amounts, such as the risk the individual took in collecting the information. In response to these findings, GAO suggests that FWS augment its financial reward policy to specify factors law enforcement agents are to consider when developing proposed reward amounts.

Additionally, GAO finds that FWS and NOAA communicated little information to the public on financial rewards, missing opportunities for potential informants to come forward. To increase these opportunities, GAO recommends that FWS and NOAA determine the types of additional information to communicate to the public on financial rewards and then develop and implement a plan for communicating that information.

Finally, GAO finds that FWS and NOAA have not reviewed the effectiveness of their use of financial rewards. GAO recommends that FWS and NOAA review the effectiveness of their use of financial rewards and implement any changes that they determine would improve the usefulness of financial rewards as a law enforcement tool. By undertaking such reviews, the agencies can identify opportunities to improve the usefulness of rewards.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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