Justice IG, FBI execs like FBI IT reform bill

Justice IG, FBI execs like FBI IT reform bill

Law enforcement officials, testifying last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee about FBI records management foul-ups in the prosecution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, endorsed reform legislation proposed by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).

But the Justice Department has no official position on S 1974, the Leahy-Grassley FBI Reform Act, witnesses said. The bill would direct the Justice inspector general to review allegations of FBI misconduct, mandate a shakeup of the agency's IT regime and shield agency whistleblowers.

Leahy, the committee chairman, and Grassley have said three previous IG reports on the bureau's IT problems did not spur action.

'I would hope you are successful in getting this enacted,' Bob Dies, the FBI's chief technology officer, said. Another supporter was Glenn Fine, the Justice IG, who last month issued a report criticizing the FBI's 'antiquated and inefficient computer systems' and 'inattention to information management.'

Robert J. Chiaradio, the FBI's executive assistant director for administration and one of four officials who report directly to FBI director Robert S. Mueller III, said parts of the legislation were constructive.

Fine testified that FBI employees did not intentionally withhold documents from McVeigh's defense team.

Procedural errors

But the inspector general criticized senior FBI managers who waited until a week before McVeigh's scheduled execution to tell headquarters that some documents were missing. FBI headquarters also handled the problem poorly, Fine said.

Officials at the hearing said the FBI is working to get its IT house in order with its new Trilogy system [GCN, Jan. 21, Page 17]. Chiaradio said it will use a high-speed network and browser access to FBI databases.

Chiaradio said the FBI's problems did not stem from a computer glitch, though a more robust system would have helped. 'It is a management and cultural issue which must be forthrightly confronted,' he said.

He singled out the creaky Automated Case System, which the IG's report cited as a source of problems, as a system the agency would replace soon.

Fine said, 'Most of the senior managers to whom we spoke acknowledged that they had no understanding of ACS, did not use it, and relied on their secretaries to obtain for them information off the computer.

'Indeed, about the only consistent information we received during our investigation was the universal dislike for ACS by supervisors, agents and support personnel.'

Fine also said the FBI needs to combine its databases. In the Oklahoma City investigation, the IG found that the bureau used at least three separate databases, which made information harder to find.

'The management and document-handling flaws documented in the inspector general's report are chilling and raise the critical question of whether the same flaws hampered the FBI's sharing of counterterrorism information' before Sept. 11, Leahy said.

'It is fair to say that the FBI does not know what it knows,' Leahy said. 'That is simply unacceptable when this country faces the threat of terrorist attacks.'

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