The Department of Justice's
Control Over Weapons and Laptop Computers
Report No. 02-31
Office of the Inspector General
In our judgment, it is critically important for the Department to increase its role in the management of sensitive property such as weapons and laptop computers. Loss of this property can result in danger to the public or compromise national security or law enforcement investigations. We believe it is an opportune time for the Department to take action to tighten controls that are currently weak, inadequate, or not fully implemented.
At the conclusion of our audits at the individual components, we made specific recommendations for improvement to the component heads. These recommendations were detailed in our individual reports and are not repeated here. Generally, our recommendations have been well received and corrective actions are underway. Based on the weaknesses we saw at the Department and component level we offer several general recommendations to strengthen controls over weapons and laptop computers.
The Department Should Review the Components' Ratios of Weapons to Employees
The components' ratios of weapons to agent/officer varied from less than one to over four. The component average was about 2 weapons per employee. We recognize that the needs of the components differ; however, we suggest that the Department consult with the component heads to assess the actual needs and determine if a Department guideline should be established.
1. We recommend that the Assistant Attorney General for Administration, in consultation with the component heads, review the ratios of weapons to agent/officer and determine if the ratios are appropriate and if a Department guideline should be established.
The Department Has Not Implemented the JFMIP Guidance on the Integration of Accounting and Property Systems
None of the components' accounting and property systems are integrated or reconciled for non-capitalized controlled personal property (including weapons and laptop computers). As a result, we identified purchased property that was not added to the inventory records. JFMIP guidance calls for this integration to facilitate reconciliation between systems and improve data accuracy. Integration or reconciliation would help ensure that transactions for property purchases entered into the accounting system result in the addition of property to the inventory management system.
The JMD Property Office has brought the JFMIP guidance to the components' attention. However, although the Justice Property Management Regulations (JPMR), which govern property management in the Department, require the components to maintain complete and accurate inventory records, they do not specify that the accounting and property systems should be integrated or reconciled.
2. We recommend that the Assistant Attorney General for Administration revise the JPMR to include the requirement for integration or reconciliation of accounting and property systems.
Lack of Department Restriction Resulted in Weak Weapon Purchase Controls at the BOP
The BOP allowed institutions and local offices to purchase weapons using credit cards. We recommended that the Director of the BOP prohibit the use of credit cards to purchase weapons as a means to further control its weapon inventory and the BOP has initiated corrective action. This additional control is warranted because weapons are possibly the most highly sensitive type of property due to their lethal nature. We discussed this issue with Department officials, who agreed that the use of credit cards to purchase weapons at the local level should be prohibited.
3. We recommend that the Assistant Attorney General for Administration revise Department level credit card directives to prohibit the purchase of weapons at the local level.
Inconsistent Policies for Securing Weapons and Laptop Computers Resulted in Avoidable Losses of Property
The JPMR and other Department regulations do not prescribe minimum standards for weapon storage. At the DEA, the component with the most stringent policy for securing weapons outside component space, 25 percent of weapon losses occurred because the responsible employees violated component policies and stored their weapons in unattended vehicles. Conversely, at both the FBI and USMS, which allowed handgun storage in unattended vehicles to some degree, the percentage of weapon losses from unattended vehicles was significantly higher. At the FBI, 44 percent of functional weapon losses for which there was an explanation occurred because they were left in unattended vehicles. Up to 50 percent of weapon losses at the USMS was attributed to storage in vehicles.
4. We recommend that the Assistant Attorney General for Administration, in consultation with the component heads, establish and implement a standard policy for the security and storage of weapons outside Department facilities, particularly in vehicles.
The Department Should Revise the Definition of Controlled Personal Property to Ensure that all Weapons and Computers are Included
The INS and USMS both had types of sensitive property that were not within the definition of controlled personal property. At the time of our audit, the INS's definition of controlled property excluded property costing $1,000 or less, including those items with data storage capability such as laptop computers. The USMS maintained a supply of stun guns and stun belts that were not designated as controlled personal property. In our judgment, the Department should ensure that these types of property are classified as controlled personal property throughout the components. In doing so, the Department will ensure that these items are subject to physical inventory and inclusion in the official property management records, thereby reducing the susceptibility for loss.
5. We recommend that the Assistant Attorney General for Administration revise the controlled personal property definition to include weapons of all types and all items with data storage capability.
Lack of Component Commitment and Department Oversight Resulted in Failure to Complete Physical Inventories
At the initiation of our audit in August 2001, the FBI had failed to complete an inventory since before 1993. Although Department and internal FBI guidelines required biennial inventories of controlled personal property, the FBI did not comply. It is simply not acceptable for the FBI to have failed to complete a physical inventory of controlled personal property in almost ten years and for the Department to be unaware of this weakness. Further, the failure of the FBI to complete an inventory no doubt led to many of the FBI's problems related to the accountability of weapons and laptop computers discussed in this report.
The JMD Property Office requested information regarding the conduct of physical inventories, but the FBI did not disclose the fact that complete inventories were not up to date. The JPMR does not require the JMD Property Office to monitor the completion of physical inventories nor does it authorize the JMD to verify that an inventory has been conducted.
6. We recommend that the Assistant Attorney General for Administration require components to report their physical inventory activities to the JMD Property Office. Further, the Property Office should be authorized to monitor the submissions and take necessary steps to verify accuracy.
The Department Should Consider Revising the Physical Inventory Requirements for Weapons
The BOP, DEA, INS, and USMS required weapons to be physically inventoried annually; the FBI did not. As the FBI incurred substantial losses of weapons, it is prudent to strengthen the Department guidelines to require weapons to undergo physical inventory annually.
7. We recommend that the Assistant Attorney General for Administration revise physical inventory guidelines to include a requirement that weapons be inventoried at least annually.
The Department Should Continue to Encourage the Components' Use of Advanced Technology
Unfortunately, the components were not taking advantage of technological advances in the area of property management. The components were making only minimal use of barcodes and scanning devises to assist in the conduct of physical inventories. The FBI was the only component to make widespread use of barcode scanners; however, officials attributed many physical inventory delays to technological problems encountered with the barcode equipment.
Recently, the Department has researched the possibility of using software, radio frequency tags, and global positioning systems to track property and reduce losses. In our judgment, the Department should continue to pursue these avenues and support component initiatives to implement other advanced technologies.
In addition, we found that the USMS was utilizing a unique scheduling system for its physical inventories. Specifically, it conducted its inventories on a continual basis, ensuring that the entire USMS is not undergoing its controlled personal property physical inventory at the same time. Thus, headquarters work remains at a more consistent level, which can minimize inaccuracies and reduce the likelihood of other property management tasks being neglected.
8. We recommend that the Assistant Attorney General for Administration encourage the components to use advanced technologies in managing property. Further, the Department should explore the USMS scheduling method to determine if more widespread use of the USMS's system throughout the Department would improve property management.
Weak Policies Regarding Loss Reports within the Components
The JPMR, which is the governing criteria for property management, and other Department guidelines are silent on several issues regarding the reporting of property losses within the components. Establishing consistent minimum standards will help ensure that adequate information is gathered at the most opportune time, that is, immediately following the discovery of a loss when the potential for recovery is at its highest. This is particularly important in that the public can be harmed by the loss of sensitive property.
Our reviews revealed the following weaknesses in the policies and procedures at the components that could be remedied, in part, through the establishment of minimum Department standards:
9. We recommend that the Assistant Attorney General for Administration, in consultation with the component heads, establish and implement minimum standards for the reporting of lost weapons and laptop computers within the components. The revised policies should address: (1) the timing of the initial loss report, (2) the inclusion of the loss discovery date and the sensitivity of information stored on lost laptop computers, and (3) reporting weapon and laptop computer losses to NCIC and the timing of such reports.
Ineffectual Policy Regarding Loss Reports to the Department
The Department requires the components to report property losses to the SEPS Facilities and Personnel Protection Group semiannually. However, the components have not fully complied with this regulation and the reports were inaccurate, incomplete, or not submitted. Further, the Department is not fully utilizing the reports to understand and act on the losses. Moreover, prior to our audit, the Department did not monitor the components' initiatives to reduce losses of weapons and laptop computers.
10. We recommend that the Assistant Attorney General for Administration revisit the Department policy for reporting property losses. This should include transferring review responsibility to the JMD Property Office, along with the authority to monitor component submissions for compliance and corrective initiatives.
Weaknesses in Department Policy for Referrals to and Reviews by Boards of Survey Resulted in Untimely Reviews or Lack of Referral
Department regulations require Boards of Survey to conduct "prompt" investigations into the circumstances that caused property losses. The timing of Board of Survey reviews ranged from 6 to 588 days after the losses were discovered. It is critical that Board of Survey reviews take place as soon as practicable upon the discovery of the loss. Conducting these reviews almost two years after a loss is reported is unacceptable.
In addition, while Department regulations require certain property losses to be referred to Boards of Survey, they do not specify that losses of any particular types of sensitive property, including weapons and laptop computers, must be referred for investigation.
11. We recommend that the Assistant Attorney General for Administration revise the Department policy related to Boards of Survey to ensure that all weapon and laptop computer losses (along with any other types of sensitive property) are referred to the Board for review. Further, the Department should establish a time standard for the initiation of the Board of Survey review.
Weak Department Policy and Ineffective Component Procedures Resulted in Property Not Retrieved from Separated Employees
Department guidelines stipulate that components must have effective procedures to provide assurance that assets do not leave the possession of the government. The guidelines dictate that component heads develop and distribute an accountable item checklist designed to fit the needs of the organization. However, our audits revealed that the components' procedures were not effective to ensure that sensitive property, such as weapons and laptop computers, was retrieved from separated employees. In fact, in 2001, the FBI found that at least 31 weapons of separated agents could not be accounted for or had not been retrieved. The BOP, DEA, and INS also experienced problems regarding the return of property.
The effectiveness of the components' procedures could be improved if the Department established minimum standards for inclusion in the required checklists for separated employees. The Department must recognize the difference among types of property and enact more specific and stringent policies for sensitive property such as weapons and laptop computers.
12. We recommend that the Assistant Attorney General for Administration require checklists for separating employees to specifically include sensitive property such as weapons and laptop computers and approval by responsible personnel, such as property and firearms custodians.
Department Policy for Disposal of Laptop Computers Does Not Specify that the Removal of Sensitive Information Needs to be Documented
Although Department regulations require components to fully remove stored information from computer equipment before disposing of the machine, the regulation does not specify that the disposal documents include information about the removal. Protecting sensitive information and documenting the steps taken are important to ensure that the public and law enforcement activities are not harmed through improper disclosure. Our testing of laptop computer disposals at the components disclosed that the majority of the records at the BOP and the FBI did not address the removal of sensitive information.
13. We recommend that the Assistant Attorney General for Administration revise the regulations to ensure that steps to remove information from laptop computers are adequately documented.