Federal Bureau of Investigation:
Selected Criminal Performance Measures
Show Areas of Improvement

Case-by-case information collected by federal prosecutors indicates that by several measures the Federal Bureau of Investigation has improved its performance during the last five years. The data were obtained from the Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act and analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

The FBI, with a $7.1 billion budget in FY 2009, currently has 31,494 permanent positions including 13,382 special agents and 2,811 intelligence analysts. In the eight years since 9/11, the bureau has been drastically re-organized into three major branches. The National Security Branch specializes in counterterrorism, intelligence and the investigation of situations involving weapons of mass destruction. The Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch focuses on the traditional FBI targets like financial crime, official corruption, violent crime and cyber crime. The Science and Technology Branch is the bureau's third large overall component.

Because this short report focuses on criminal enforcement activities tracked by federal prosecutors it necessarily does not explore the mostly classified surveillance and intelligence activities of the National Security Branch or the research activities of the Science and Technology Branch. Instead, it examines the work of the Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch, much of which goes forward in the federal courts.

According to data collected by the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA), the Justice Department's umbrella organization for federal prosecutors, FBI investigators in FY 2008 recommended the prosecution of 25,518 individuals. Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges last year against 14,357 individuals that had been referred by the FBI, and there were 11,365 convictions.

During the past five years, an examination of the data show small but consistent year-by-year changes that point to improved FBI performance on a number of criminal enforcement indicators. While these measures are available for each of the federal judicial districts, the findings below are for the nation as a whole. For example:

  • Because U.S. Attorneys are authorized by law and custom to reject agency referrals for prosecution when they are for one reason or another determined to be inadequate, the proportion of all matters that that actually result in a filing is one useful way to judge the overall quality of the cases the agents are bringing to the prosecutors. In this case, referrals prosecuted rose from 51% in FY 2004 to 58.2% in FY 2008.

  • A second indicator is the proportion of FBI prosecutions where the outcome was a conviction. Here the change was small, but consistently better. In FY 2004, 79.2% were convicted; in FY2008 that proportion of convictions improved to 83.5%.

  • A third measure of agency change is the sentences that are imposed on individuals convicted in situations where the prosecutors identified the FBI as the lead agency. In this case the shifts were substantial. In 2004, there were 10,056 individuals who were sent to prison as a result of an FBI investigation and the median or typical sentence — half got more, half got less — was 30 months. In FY 2008, while the number sent to prison decreased to 9,789, the typical sentence rose to 41 months.

While all of these measures examine selected bureau performance measures for the nation, with TRAC's FBI web site similar examinations can be done for each of the federal judicial districts.

The data, for example, indicate that the proportion of FBI referrals that result in criminal filings varies widely in different part of the country. At the top for this measure were Minnesota (Minneapolis), California Central (Los Angeles), Pennsylvania Middle (Scranton), Florida South (Miami) and South Carolina (Columbia), where more than three quarters were prosecuted. At the other end of the scale were Alabama Middle (Montgomery), Mississippi South (Jackson), Tennessee Middle (Nashville), Kentucky West (Louisville) and West Virginia South (Charleston). In these district just over a third (34.3%) of the FBI referrals resulted in prosecution.