Law Enforcement Body Armor:

DOJ Could Enhance Grant Management Controls and Better Ensure Consistency in Grant Program Requirements

GAO-12-353: Published: Feb 15, 2012. Publicly Released: Feb 15, 2012.

Multimedia:

  • GAO: Demonstration of How Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor WorksVIDEO: Demonstration of How Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor Works
    This video explains how ballistic-resistant body armor works. Video provided by The National Institute of Justice.
  • GAO: Demonstration of Difference Between Soft Concealable and Tactical Body ArmorVIDEO: Demonstration of Difference Between Soft Concealable and Tactical Body Armor
    This video explains the difference between soft concealable body armor and tactical body armor. Video provided by The National Institute of Justice.
  • GAO: Description of Types of Ballistic-Resistant Body ArmorVIDEO: Description of Types of Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor
    This video describes the different types of ballistic-resistant body armor. Video provided by The National Institute of Justice.
  • GAO: Information on the Bulletproof Vest Partnership ProgramVIDEO: Information on the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program
    This video provides information on the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program. Video provided by The National Institute of Justice.
  • GAO: Information on Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor Fit and CoverageVIDEO: Information on Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor Fit and Coverage
    This video provides information on body armor fit and coverage. Video provided by The National Institute of Justice.
  • GAO: Information on Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor Wear and TearVIDEO: Information on Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor Wear and Tear
    This video discusses ballistic-resistant body armor wear and tear. Video provided by The National Institute of Justice.
  • GAO: Information on Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor Care and MaintenanceVIDEO: Information on Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor Care and Maintenance
    This video discusses ballistic-resistant body armor care and maintenance. Video provided by The National Institute of Justice.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

David C. Maurer
(202) 512-9627
maurerd@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has a number of initiatives to support body armor use by state and local law enforcement, including funding, research, standards development, and testing programs. Two Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) grant programs provide funding to state and local law enforcement to facilitate their body armor purchases. The Bulletproof Vest Partnership (BVP) program offers 2-year grants on a reimbursable basis. The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program provides 4-year grant money up front that can be used to fund body armor procurement along with other criminal justice activities. Since the BVP program’s inception in 1999, it has reimbursed grantees about $247 million for their purchases of 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. 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. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) sponsors body armor research, establishes body armor performance standards, and oversees body armor testing for compliance.

DOJ designed several internal controls to manage and coordinate BJA’s and NIJ’s body armor activities, but could take steps to strengthen them, consistent with standards for internal control. For example, the BVP program has not deobligated about $27 million in undisbursed funds from grant awards whose terms have ended. To strengthen fund management, DOJ could deobligate these funds for grants that have closed and, for example, apply the amounts to new awards or reduce requests for future budgets. Also, unlike the BVP program, the JAG program does not require that the body armor purchased be NIJ compliant or that officers be mandated to wear the armor purchased. To promote officer safety and harmonize the BVP and JAG programs, DOJ could establish consistent body armor requirements.

Factors affecting body armor use and effectiveness include law enforcement agencies’ policies mandating wear; the comfort, fit, and coverage of the vests; degradation caused by wear and tear; and exposure to environmental conditions. Among other efforts to address these factors, DOJ has revised its standards and compliance tests to incorporate the latest technology.

Why GAO Did This Study

Since 1987, body armor—in the form of ballistic-resistant and stab-resistant vests—has reportedly saved the lives of over 3,000 law enforcement officers nationwide. Recognizing body armor’s value, the Department of Justice (DOJ)—through its Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and its National Institute of Justice (NIJ)—has implemented initiatives to support state and local law enforcement agencies’ use of body armor. GAO was asked to examine (1) DOJ’s efforts to support the use of body armor, (2) the extent to which DOJ has designed controls to manage and coordinate these efforts, and (3) the factors affecting body armor’s use and effectiveness and steps DOJ has taken to address them. GAO reviewed information on DOJ’s efforts, and interviewed officials from BJA, NIJ, 6 manufacturers, 2 laboratories, 3 law enforcement associations, 10 state and local jurisdictions, and 12 stakeholders in and outside of government. GAO selected these organizations nonrandomly based in part on their size, and location. GAO also examined body armor literature on key factors affecting body armor’s use and effectiveness and reviewed DOJ’s efforts to address these factors.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that among other actions, DOJ deobligate undisbursed funds from grants in the BVP program that have closed, establish consistent requirements within its body armor grant programs, and track grantees’ intended stab-resistant vest purchases. DOJ generally agreed with the recommendations.

For more information, contact David C. Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or maurerd@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We found that the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) has limited visibility over which Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance (JAG) grantees are using their awards for body armor purchases, as the Grant Management System (GMS) only has a project identifier--a mechanism that allows grantees and grant managers to report categories of planned purchases--for ballistic-resistant body armor. As a result, we recommended that BJA establish a project identifier to track stab-resistant body armor. In February 2012, BJA added a project identifier called "Body Armor - Stab-Resistant" within GMS. This project identifier is consistent with our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance management of body armor funding, improve grantee accountability in the use of federal funds, reduce the risk of grantee noncompliance with program requirements, and ensure consistency in the department's efforts to promote law enforcement officer safety, the BJA Director should establish a project identifier within GMS to track stab-resistant body armor.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: Bureau of Justice Assistance

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We found that the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) could strengthen its monitoring practices to better ensure compliance with the prohibition on combining Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) and Bulletproof Vest Partnership (BVP) Program awards. As a result, we recommended that BJA document pertinent monitoring procedures for checking compliance with JAG program requirements. In April 2012, BJA began developing guidance for conducting and documenting desk review checks of compliance with JAG program requirements, and in October, 2012, fully implemented these new procedures. BJA informed us of the new procedures in January 2013, noting that the new guidance will aid BJA staff in completing their desk reviews for fiscal year 2013 and beyond. BJA's actions for developing and implementing these new desk review check procedures are consistent with the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance management of body armor funding, improve grantee accountability in the use of federal funds, reduce the risk of grantee noncompliance with program requirements, and ensure consistency in the department's efforts to promote law enforcement officer safety, the BJA Director should document procedures for desk review checks on compliance with JAG program requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: Bureau of Justice Assistance

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We found that the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) could better promote officer safety by harmonizing the body armor purchase and wear requirements of its Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) and Bulletproof Vest Partnership (BVP) grant programs. As a result, 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 are permitted to purchase only body armor that is compliant with National Institute of Justice (NIJ) standards. In March 2012, BJA established requirements for JAG recipients purchasing body armor with fiscal year 2012 awards to certify that (1) they have a written mandatory wear policy in effect and (2) the body armor complies with applicable NIJ ballistic- or stab-resistant standards. The certification requirements are consistent with our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance management of body armor funding, improve grantee accountability in the use of federal funds, reduce the risk of grantee noncompliance with program requirements, and ensure consistency in the department's efforts to promote law enforcement officer safety, the BJA Director should 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 are permitted to purchase only NIJ-compliant body armor.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: Bureau of Justice Assistance

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We found that the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) listed its document retention requirement for the Bulletproof Vest Partnership (BVP) program in limited areas, thus increasing the risk that grantees would not be aware of it. As a result, we recommended that BJA expand the information available on its requirement that BVP grantees retain documentation on all transactions for at least three years. In response, BJA began including information on the documentation retention requirement on the website for the BVP program and in the fiscal year 2012 BVP program application, which was issued in May 2012. In addition, the fiscal year 2012 application requires applicants to certify their acknowledgment and acceptance of the requirement. These steps are consistent with our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance management of body armor funding, improve grantee accountability in the use of federal funds, reduce the risk of grantee noncompliance with program requirements, and ensure consistency in the department's efforts to promote law enforcement officer safety, the BJA Director should expand information available to BVP grantees on the current program requirement for jurisdictions to retain documentation on all transactions for at least 3 years.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: Bureau of Justice Assistance

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We found that the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) had not deobligated undisbursed funds from Bulletproof Vest Partnership (BVP) Program grant awards whose terms had ended, which is an important final point of accountability for grantees and allows agencies to identify and redirect funds to other priorities. To strengthen fund management, we recommended that BJA deobligate undisbursed funds from grants in the BVP program that have closed. As of May 2013, BJA deobligated approximately $31 million in undisbursed funding from BVP grants whose terms had closed. This total includes the undisbursed funding from BVP grants that were first awarded from fiscal years 2002 through 2009 that we identified in our February 2012 report, as well as undisbursed funds from fiscal year 2010 grants whose terms ended subsequent to the issuance of our report. These actions are consistent with our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance management of body armor funding, improve grantee accountability in the use of federal funds, reduce the risk of grantee noncompliance with program requirements, and ensure consistency in the department's efforts to promote law enforcement officer safety, the BJA Director should deobligate undisbursed funds from grants in the BVP program that have closed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: Bureau of Justice Assistance

 

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