The Justice Department has spent 10 years and $800 million to combat high-level racketeering but has had little success in halting the nationwide activities of organized crime, according to a General Accounting Office study.
The study is especially critical of the 12 strike forces that are front-line units of the federal campaign. It argues that these forces have been hobbled by lack of a coherent national strategy and failure to agree "on what organized crime is and, consequently, on precisely whom or what the government is fighting."
A copy of the GAO report, which has not yet been made public, was obtained yesterday from congressional sources.
GAO's findings are likely to exacerbate a bitter struggle that has been under way within the Justice Department over the future direction control and structure of the drive against organized crime.
Since 1967, that campaign has been controlled by the strike forces - teams of Justice Department attorneys and investigators from other federal law enforcement agencies set up in major cities to gather evidence for the prosecution of rackets leaders.
In the final months of the Ford administration, former Assistant Attorney General Richard L. Thornburgh, then head of the Criminal Division, had been attempting to downgrade the strike forces and shift many of their functions in to the U.S. attorney's offices in certain cities.
Before leaving office, Thornburgh shut down the strike forces in Manhattan, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and St. Louis and put the one in Newark under control of the U.S. attorney there. The new Attorney General, Griffin B. Bell, and Thornburgh's successor in the Criminal Division, Benjamin V. Civiletti, have not said whether they plan to continue this trend.
The GAO report did not recommend that the strike forces be abolished. But it charged that they "are not getting the job done" and warned that they will not become more effective unless there are extensive changes in their planning, organization, direction and methods of operation.
To back up its contention, the GAO study attempted to measure the results of the $80 million spent annually by the strike forces to investigate and prosecute racketeers.
As a gauge, the study analyzed the 2,967 indictments obtained from 1972 through 1975 by strike forces in six areas: Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, new Orleans, Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The GAO analysis found that, although a large number of convictions were obtained, they had little apparent effect on impeding the organized crime figures involved. Fifty-two per cent of the sentences imposed did not require the persons convicted to serve time im prison: and only 20 per cent of the sentences calling for confinement were for two years or more.
In another major criticism the study noted that, because of legal restrictions and interagency rivalries, the Justice Department attorneys nominally in charge of the strike forces have little actual control over the personnel assigned to them.
As a result, the study said, "there is no coordinated federal effort to fight organized crime. In practice, each participating agency fights organized crime as it sees fit and uses strike-force attorneys only for advice and prosecution."
The report noted that in 1970 the Justice Department defined organized crime as "all illegal activities engaged in by members of criminal syndicates . . . and all illegal activities engaged in by known associates and conferates of such members."
It added, though, that department personnel say this definition is so broad and imprecise that there has been constant confusion about the scope of the strike forces' jurisdiction. Although several other definitions have been suggested by various federal agencies, the report said, none has been formally adopted or greeted with wide acceptance.
The report also was critical of the costly computerized intelligence system built up by the Justice Department over the years to keep tabs on rackets leaders. Despite the considerable effort and expense lavished on this system, the study contended, it has failed to meet its objective of providing federal, state and local police with a centralized source of accurate data on organized crime.
To overcome these problems, the GAO said, the Justice Department should take steps to "identify what and whom the strike forces are combating," develop a uniform national strategy and priorities for the campaign, centralize the responsibility and authority for the program and set up systems to evaluate the effectiveness of the strike forces.
To bring about better interagency cooperation, the study recommended that the Atthorney General seek a presidential order requiring "the other agencies' cooperation and commitment, should be not receive satisfaction from these agencies."