- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

More than 800 firearms assigned to federal law-enforcement officials are still missing more than two years after the Justice Department brought the problem of unaccounted weapons to light, according to a report by the General Accounting Office released yesterday.

The GAO report also found that federal law-enforcement agencies did not always report — or report in a timely manner — missing firearms internally or to the National Crime Information Center, a nationwide law-enforcement database of criminal justice information.

The report noted that the average time for a federal agency to report a lost firearm ranged from the same day by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to 4.3 years by the FBI.

The GAO report was requested by Reps. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican; John Dingell, Michigan Democrat; John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat; Lamar Smith, Texas Republican; and Bobby Scott, Virginia Democrat, and focused on federal agencies’ control over firearms and other weapons.

In March 2001, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General found that some agencies could not account for firearms assumed to be in their possession. Based on that information, the House Judiciary Committee began an oversight review of practices and policies used to inventory and secure firearms for law-enforcement authorities and personnel.

“Neither the public nor I will condone having over 800 firearms missing from federal agencies,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said. “Most disturbing, though, is that many of these firearms were not timely reported missing by the law-enforcement officers themselves. That is inexcusable.”

Mr. Sensenbrenner said that as a result of the committee’s oversight inquiries and the GAO investigation, the most careless agencies have instituted regular procedures to inventory guns. A number of unanswered questions remain, he said, and internal weapons controls must be strengthened.

“We will continue our focused oversight of this matter until this problem is resolved,” he said.

The GAO investigation, which targeted 18 federal agencies, found that:

• Fifteen of the 18 agencies reported a total of 1,012 firearms lost, stolen or otherwise not in their possession from September 1998 to July 2002. Of these firearms, 824 are still missing. A total of 243,017 firearms were inventoried.

• A few agencies, particularly the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, did not always investigate lost or stolen weapons as required by policies and procedures. For instance, the GAO said the Justice Department Inspector General’s Office found no evidence that the FBI investigated 141 of 212 missing firearms case.

• Some agencies did not always follow established procedures for storing firearms in vehicles or retrieving firearms from separating employees.

• Of the 63 recommendations made by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General in March 2001 and August 2002, the INS, Bureau of Prisons, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Marshals Service have implement fewer than half. The agencies said they were in the process of implementing the remaining recommendations.

• Of the 458 firearms reported missing by the FBI from September 1998 to July 2002, 386 remain lost. By contrast, of four reported missing by the Secret Service, two are still lost. Eleven of the 18 agencies required people assigned the responsibility of conducting inventories to be trained in inventory procedures.

“The GAO has confirmed what we suspected: instances of lost, stolen and missing guns were not limited only to the FBI and INS, but rather endemic to the federal government,” Mr. Dingell said. “More than 800 firearms — pistols, rifles and even submachine guns — remain unaccounted for. This is simply intolerable.”

Mr. Conyers called the GAO report “deeply troubling.” He said the failure of agencies to report and investigate lost and stolen firearms, coupled with an inability to recover the weapons, “places the lives of countless Americans at risk.”

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