OIG Law Enforcement Authority

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Our special agents have been granted Federal law enforcement authority since 1978.

Since Congress established DOT OIG in 1978, our special agents have been granted Federal law enforcement authority to conduct criminal investigations—including the authority to make arrests, obtain and execute search warrants, and carry firearms. Before 2002, DOT OIG special agents were granted law enforcement authority through special deputation by the U.S. Marshals Service. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 granted our special agents permanent statutory law enforcement authority.

Our investigative function upholds the same rigorous training and operational standards as other Federal law enforcement agencies.

Like other Federal law enforcement agencies, DOT exercises its law enforcement authority in accordance with U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland Security Act requirements and guidelines: 

  • Training. All our special agents are subject to rigorous law enforcement training required for most other Federal law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Marshals Service, Homeland Security Investigations, and other OIGs. For example, our special agents are required to complete a standard criminal investigator training program, advanced training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, and quarterly firearms training and qualification.
  • Use of Force Policy. DOT OIG’s policy on use of force mirrors the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) and DOJ’s policies on use of deadly force. Our policy addresses all types of use of force situations that may arise during our investigations. All DOT OIG special agents are trained quarterly on use of force.
  • External Peer Reviews. DOT OIG’s investigative function is subject to external peer reviews at least once every 3 years to ensure adequate internal safeguards and management procedures.  

Our Federal law enforcement authority—especially the authority to seek and execute search warrants—enables us to achieve impressive investigative outcomes.

Between fiscal years 2005 and 2014, our special agents executed over 400 search warrants. Use of search warrants increases the likelihood of prosecutors accepting our cases by over 50 percent and our financial return on investment to taxpayers by about 1,500 percent. Between fiscal years 2011 and 2015, our investigations contributed to our average financial return on investment of $29 for every $1 appropriated to DOT OIG.

Our Federal law enforcement authority helps us achieve impressive results year after year. The FBI, Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), DOJ, and U.S. Attorneys Offices across the country have recognized our robust criminal investigative program for its effectiveness in fighting fraud in DOT’s programs and operations. In particular:

  • DOT OIG has an outstanding record investigating fraud and other violations in the transportation industry—including suspect or unapproved parts fraud (such as counterfeit aircraft parts and air bags), household goods moving fraud, commercial driver’s license fraud, hours-of-service fraud, and pipeline and hazardous materials violations.
  • Between fiscal years 2005 and 2014, our investigations have resulted in 1,308 indictments, 1,186 convictions, and over $2.9 billion in financial fines, restitution, and recoveries. In addition, our cases led to sentences totaling over 1,160 years of incarceration and 2,763 years of supervised release and probation.

Federal law enforcement authority helps keep our special agents safe in dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations.

Like other Federal law enforcement agents, DOT OIG special agents are exposed to dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations while conducting criminal investigations. Our special agents conduct their investigations at night, alone, and in high crime locations. Consequently, any seemingly routine action can have the potential to turn into a dangerous or deadly situation.

Execution of search warrants and arrest warrants can be especially dangerous. Between fiscal years 2005 and 2014, our special agents executed 403 search warrants and 422 arrest warrants. While executing many of these warrants, our agents discovered weapons including automatic machine guns, assault rifles, shotguns, handguns, knives, hand grenades, and rockets. It is not uncommon for OIG special agents to arrest individuals who carry weapons on their person or in their vehicles. For example, while executing a search warrant at a Colorado trucking company, DOT OIG agents discovered more than 15 rifles and shotguns belonging to the trucking company owner.

In addition, DOT OIG special agents regularly interview persons engaged in criminal activity or with criminal histories. These suspects can sometimes be irrational, violent, or deadly—especially when faced with the consequences of their criminal misconduct. For example:

  • During an investigation of trucking safety violations, the defendant hired a hit man to kill one of his co-defendants who had agreed to cooperate in our investigation. Tragically, the hit man mistakenly murdered the co-defendant’s nephew instead. OIG special agents assisted the FBI and the State of Georgia with the investigations of the witness tampering and murder. The hit man and the defendant were both sentenced to life in prison.
  • During an investigation of disadvantaged business enterprise fraud, a defendant shot and killed a local police officer who had attempted to pull the defendant over for suspected drunken driving. The defendant sped off in his car and ran into his home, where he grabbed a shotgun and shot the officer multiple times from the second floor window. The defendant then ran over the officer multiple times with his vehicle. Police officers that responded to the scene shot and killed the defendant. 
  • During an investigation of transit construction fraud, we arrested and subsequently charged an individual who had an extensive history of assault and threats of violence. We learned that the defendant had approached a subcontractor, who was trying to collect payment for services rendered, and struck him on the back of the head with a baseball bat. The subcontractor was subsequently hospitalized, and the defendant was charged with possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes and other related violations. The same defendant was later arrested in connection with a domestic dispute during which he threatened to shoot the mother of his daughter.

DOT OIG’s Federal law enforcement authority has facilitated a strong working relationship with our law enforcement partners and allows our special agents to assist during national crises.

DOT OIG special agents often partner with other law enforcement agencies such as the FBI to conduct joint investigations. Our Federal law enforcement authority has facilitated a strong working relationship with our law enforcement partners, allowing us to lend our considerable transportation expertise to joint investigations across the country. 

Our special agents are also available and ready to assist DOT and the Nation during times of national crisis. For example:

  • In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the FBI called upon our special agents to run terrorism leads for the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Our agents also served as Federal Air Marshals to secure the Nation’s aviation system and performed undercover inspections of airport security throughout the country. 
  • Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, we assisted the Department by protecting DOT personnel and assets. 
  • Following the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, we assisted in searching for the individuals responsible for the bombing. DOT OIG special agents were instrumental in the investigation, which eventually ended in the prosecution of convicted bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s college friend who had hid potentially incriminating evidence following the bombing. 
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