824 weapons missing at federal agencies
FBI and Park Service record largest number
Republic Washington Bureau
Jul. 1, 2003 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - Fifteen of 18 federal agencies, including the FBI, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement have reported more than 1,000 lost or stolen weapons since Sept. 30, 1998, a government study released Monday shows.
Some of those missing firearms have been recovered, but 824 still are missing.
The FBI and the Park Service recorded the largest number of missing weapons through July 2002, 458 and 196, respectively, said the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
Two of the agencies involved are the former Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Customs Service, which are now part of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Agencies with significant numbers of firearms identified as lost or stolen from September 1998 to July 2002 include the INS (114); the Customs Service (94); the Drug Enforcement Administration (63); and the Fish and Wildlife Service (27).
In all, the GAO found that 15 of the 18 federal agencies its auditors reviewed reported 1,012 firearms as lost, stolen, or otherwise missing. Of those, only 188 were recovered.
Of the 1,012 firearms that agencies reported stolen or missing, 541 were semiautomatic pistols. They also reported missing 187 revolvers or other handguns, 157 training weapons, 92 shotguns, 38 rifles, 19 submachine guns and one stun gun.
The report, done at the request of the House Judiciary Committee, concludes that while the agencies have instigated policies for controlling and safeguarding firearms as required by federal standards, those policies need to be reassessed to determine why they are not effective and if they should be changed.
"These firearms may pose a serious risk to the public, including the risk that they may be used to inflict bodily harm or to further criminal activity," the auditors wrote.
The GAO study comes on the heels of audits released last year by the Justice and Treasury departments' own inspectors general documenting missing weapons at the FBI, DEA, INS, Secret Service and Customs. Those audits identified several incidents in which missing federal firearms had turned up in criminal activity, including missing Customs Service weapons recovered in a drive-by shooting.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the ranking Judiciary Committee Democrat, said Monday, "The GAO has confirmed what we suspected; instances of lost, stolen and missing guns were not limited to the FBI and INS, but rather endemic to the federal government."
The 18 federal agencies selected for the broader GAO study released on Monday represent 95 percent of the 80,000 total federal officers and agents authorized to carry firearms. Governmentwide, there are about 243,000 weapons in these agencies' inventories, the report states. The three agencies that reported no missing weapons were the U.S. Mint, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Bureau Engraving and Printing.
"While we could not determine the exact percentage of agency firearms that were reported lost, stolen or missing, it appears the firearms generally accounted for less than 1 percent of agencies' total firearms inventories," the GAO found.
Still, the auditors found the number of missing firearms troubling.
"Internal controls that have been established to safeguard firearms, but were not appropriate controls based on the agencies' needs, or were not implemented or properly applied, provide little assurance that firearms are safe from loss, theft or misuse," the report states.
In general, the agencies agreed with the GAO's recommendations and responded with plans for improvement. The Fish and Wildlife Service plans to develop a Web-based firearms training guide and will conduct unscheduled random checks of firearms.
Attorney General John Ashcroft has said he is taking seriously the lost weapons at the FBI and other agencies, and asked them to design policies to prevent such losses. Park Service officials had no comment Monday.