Office of the Federal Detention Trustee's (OFDT) Cost Estimation Methods Reflect Features of Best Practices, but Processes Could be Enhanced Page: 2 of 64
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In summary, OFDT develops its annual budget request for DOJ using three general
steps: (1) estimating cost increases needed to maintain current service levels, (2)
projecting the changes in the detainee population, and (3) estimating the costs
associated with detainee population and other program changes.
OFDT's process for estimating the federal detainee population and costs reflects
some of the features of GAO's best practices for cost estimation, but OFDT has not
adopted enough of the practices to meet the four characteristics that we associate
with high-quality cost estimates. Specifically, we determined that OFDT's cost
estimation processes substantially met the features that characterize accurate and
comprehensive cost estimates and partially met the features that characterize well-
documented and credible cost estimates. OFDT documents the purpose, formulas,
and data sources behind its cost estimates, but many of the technical aspects of
OFDT's cost estimation model are fully understood only by the individual who runs
the model. Further, the President's annual budget request to Congress for OFDT has
begun to include estimates of how an increase in the number of individuals charged
with drug, weapons, or immigration offenses may affect program costs, but, as a best
practice, OFDT also could perform analyses that account for the risks and
uncertainties in the model's assumptions and estimates.
OFDT and DOJ officials attributed OFDT's need for additional funding to several
factors, including unanticipated increases in the detainee population, higher per diem
rates resulting from limited available detention bed space, and limited financial
reserves at the beginning of the fiscal year. More specifically, law enforcement
initiatives related to immigration have significantly increased the total detainee
population. OFDT officials stated that it is difficult to incorporate such initiatives
into its detainee population model because OFDT, as part of the federal budget
process, must submit its projections for a fiscal year 18-24 months before that fiscal
year and the law enforcement initiative begin. In addition, since OFDT has limited
flexibility in how it spends its funds and its annual costs exceed $1 billion, even a
small difference between projected and actual costs could result in OFDT facing
costs that exceed its appropriated funds by tens of millions of dollars. For additional
information on the results of our work, see slides 12 through 15 in the enclosure.
As a result of our findings, we are recommending that OFDT improve its
documentation of the calculations it uses in its detention population and cost
estimation model. We are also recommending that OFDT quantify the extent to
which costs could vary due to the inherent risks in key assumptions, data inputs, and
In commenting on a draft of this briefing, the Department of Justice concurred with
our recommendations and provided technical comments that we incorporated where
We are sending copies of this report to the appropriate congressional committees.
We are also sending copies to the Attorney General of the United States, as well as
GAO-10-1037R OFDT Budget Estimating Methods
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Office of the Federal Detention Trustee's (OFDT) Cost Estimation Methods Reflect Features of Best Practices, but Processes Could be Enhanced, text, September 30, 2010; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc300042/m1/2/: accessed January 20, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.