- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 22, 2001

It's been a bad year for the FBI. Between the botched prosecution of Timothy McVeigh that resulted in month-long stay of execution at untold legal costs and the revelation of the 15-year espionage career of Robert Hanssen, the last thing the beleaguered agency needs on its hands are missing guns and computers. But, inventories don't lie, even if agents do.

The precise totals of 449 firearms and 184 laptop computers that turned up missing in the latest internal FBI inventory are certainly cause for some consternation. FBI officials also acknowledged that one of the missing laptops contains classified information. At least one. In fact, it is suspected that three other missing computers also contain secret information.

The latest in a string of managerial oversights and public humiliations has not gone unnoticed. On Wednesday the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing where a panel of experts, from both within and outside of the agency, outlined proposals for reforming the management of the FBI. Receiving principal attention at the hearing were the erratic nature of bureau oversight, communication between headquarters and field offices, security and the outdated information technology that continually impedes the FBI's investigations.

Several recent developments have made this, the second Judiciary Committee hearing on FBI oversight, particularly timely. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who chairs the committee, made an appeal for an expeditious confirmation process once President Bush sends FBI Director Robert Mueller's nomination to the Senate. (Given the recalcitrance of Democrats to move any Bush nominations, this is worthy of note.) Also, earlier this month, Attorney General John Ashcroft redefined the role of the Office of Inspector General, expanding its authority to conduct investigations of alleged misconduct among agents in both the FBI and the DEA. Mr. Leahy shares Mr. Ashcroft's view that such a measure will be of central importance to a more effective and centralized oversight process.

And then there is the question of the inventories. The clearest thinking on this, a matter of considerable embarrassment, examines FBI management on a structural level. Raymond Kelly, former commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service, highlighted the lack of a central, hierarchical chain of command. The extensive fluidity with which many agents are permitted to operate comes at the expense of central authority, and, unsurprisingly, leads to cases of retired or fired agents simply not returning their weapons upon termination.

Hopefully, under Mr. Mueller's leadership, the FBI will undergo substantial rehabilitation.

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