Audit Shows DOJ Needs a Lesson in Accountability

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Attorney General John Ashcroft's ears must really be ringing now. It was bad enough when the Department of Justice (DOJ), which he heads, was criticized for its handling of the Andersen obstruction-of-justice charges. Those charges cost thousands of innocent workers their jobs. Now, Mr. Ashcroft has received an audit report showing his entire department suffers from "a lack of accountability" for its assets, including laptops and firearms.

The report, which was issued by the Inspector General, shows that at least 400 laptop computers are missing, lost or stolen. Making matters worse, some of these computers may have been authorized to store material classified as secret or top secret. "It is possible," says the report, "that the missing laptop computers would have been used to process and store national security or sensitive law enforcement information that, if divulged, could harm the public."

Also missing, stolen or lost are 775 weapons. The FBI has an average of 4.4 firearms per employee. The average time for a loss to be reported to the FBI is over four years. Some loss reports took 23 years to be filed. That's despite FBI guidelines that require employees to report lost property and FBI procedures that require an inventory of physical property every two years. The last inventory was conducted a decade ago, before 1993.

The report of missing computers and firearms in the Justice Department follows closely on the heels of a similar report about the Internal Revenue Service. In November 2001, a report by Treasury Department auditors found the IRS had lost or misplaced 2,332 laptop computers, desktop computers and servers over three years.

Mr. Ashcroft thanked the Inspector General for the report and said, "The Department of Justice is committed to implementing necessary reforms and policies, and these recommendations will be integral to this effort."

Download the Inspector General's report.

-Rosemary Schlank

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