The Justice Department gave disparate amounts of money to groups fighting human trafficking, with one group receiving almost four times as much as another group that planned to do the same amount of work, according to an internal audit released Friday.
The department couldn’t explain the discrepancies, according to a report from the Office of Inspector General Glenn A. Fine.
The report described a chaotic system in which poorly monitored programs made it difficult to identify, help and track victims of human trafficking.
The IG report also indicates changes were under way at the Justice Department to improve the system even as the audit was being done. The Inspector General said it made 17 other recommended improvements, with which the Justice Department agreed.
The Justice Department said in a statement that it “agrees with the [Inspector General’s] recommendations, and, as noted in the report itself, has already taken steps to better monitor and assess grants to combat human trafficking and to better track data related to the number of human trafficking victims identified and served.”
According to the report, the department gave more than $50 million to law-enforcement task forces and nonprofit service providers from 2003 to 2007 to combat human trafficking, which mostly lures foreign women and children into the U.S. under false pretenses and then uses them for free or exploited labor, as prostitutes and in other illegal activities.
The 42 task forces across the country were charged with identifying and “rescuing” victims, while the Justice Department worked with service providers to provide victims with basic needs, including food, shelter and clothing.
But the report could not determine how the Department of Justice decided on the amount of money to give a group.
One example included in the report shows that the department gave Boat People S.O.S. Inc. of Falls Church, which planned to help 100 victims, a grant of almost $1.9 million. The Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights of Chicago, which also planned to help 100 victims, received slightly more than $490,000.
In light of such information, the report called for better oversight from the Justice Department. The recommendations included maintaining better documents to support the accuracy of reported victims and work to award the appropriate amount of money in the areas it is most needed.
The report also indicates that the groups’ efforts helped only a fraction of human trafficking victims.
In 2003-04, the first two years of the program, the report said service providers helped fewer than 500 victims. The next year, the Justice Department estimated that human trafficking into the U.S. claimed as many as 17,500 victims.
“Human trafficking grant programs have built significant capacities to serve victims, but have not identified and served significant numbers of victims,” according to the report.
The department began giving grants to anti-trafficking task forces in 2004 in the hope they would find more victims and bring them to the service providers.
In 2005-07, according the report, task forces found 2,103 victims and service providers helped 1,444 of them.
Though scratching only the surface of the problem, the report concluded even those numbers - eventually passed along to Congress - were overstated.
According to an audit, seven service providers reported numbers to the Justice Department that indicated they served more than 50 percent more victims than they actually did.
The report concluded a variety of reasons for such overstatements, such as mistakes filling out paperwork. An official in the Office of the Inspector General said none of the cases appeared to be “fraud or required a criminal referral.”