The U.S. Marshals Service's
Control Over Weapons and Laptop Computers
Report No. 02-29
Office of the Inspector General
The USMS reported 6 weapons and 56 laptop computers as lost or stolen during the 2 years covered by our audit. Although the number of reported losses is small, the sensitive nature of these items and the possibility for public harm heightens the significance of each loss. Many of these losses were identified during physical inventories and were attributed to undocumented transfers or disposals. We found that the losses were not always reported in a timely manner and some have not been reported to the Department Security Officer as required. Further, the USMS Board of Survey, which is responsible for reviewing property loss incidents, has not convened since November 2000 and 50 of the 62 reported losses have not been adjudicated. We also found that the reporting process does not ensure that all necessary information is captured to aid the investigations and possible recovery.
According to the USMS Property Office, 6 weapons and 56 laptop computers were identified as lost or stolen during the 2 years covered by our audit, as shown below.
|Source: USMS Property Office|
We reviewed the circumstances surrounding these losses and the actions taken by the USMS to document and follow up on each, including compliance with Department and internal regulations. In addition, we looked for indications that the losses resulted in physical harm to the public or compromised national security or investigative information.
Our review of the circumstances surrounding the 6 lost or stolen weapons and 56 laptop computers revealed that in some cases the losses were due to flood, hurricane, fire, or vehicle theft. At least 28 losses (45 percent) were identified through physical inventories, and 14 (23 percent) were attributed to undocumented transfers or disposals. Seven laptop computers reported lost were subsequently found, of which four had been transferred without proper documentation. To reduce future losses, the USMS should reiterate to its employees the importance of following property management guidelines and proper record keeping. The losses and related circumstances are summarized in Appendix II.
Reports and Investigations of Losses
We reviewed the documentation related to the property losses to determine if: (1) the responsible employee timely submitted the initial loss report, (2) firearms were promptly entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC),14 (3) the Board of Survey adjudicated the incidents in a timely manner, and (4) items were reported to the Department Security Officer. Our results are detailed below and summarized in Appendix III.
Initial Loss Reports – According to the USMS Property Manual, when accountable or non-expendable property is discovered to be lost, stolen, damaged, or destroyed, the responsible employee must immediately report the incident through his supervisor to the local Property Custodian. The employee must complete an Affidavit Regarding Lost, Stolen, or Unauthorized Destruction of Government Property (Form USM-134) and submit a copy to the Property Office.15 The USMS Firearms Policy contains further guidance related to the loss of weapons. Specifically, the responsible employee must submit the USM-134 to the responsible U.S. Marshal or Assistant Director within 24 hours of the discovery of the loss.
All 62 lost and stolen items were supported by a USM-134. In 22 instances (4 weapons and 18 laptop computers), the losses were reported as soon as practicable upon discovery of the loss. In 8 cases the USM-134s were not submitted timely: 1 weapon and 1 laptop computer were reported 33 and 50 days, respectively, after the initial discovery of the loss and a group of 6 laptop computers was reported 40 days after initial discovery.
In the remaining 32 instances (1 weapon and 31 laptop computers), we were unable to determine if the loss reports were filed timely because the documents did not identify the date the loss was discovered. Although the reporting requirements are based upon this date, the USM-134 only contains fields for the date of loss and the submission date. In instances where the exact loss date was unknown, the submitter often provided the date the item was last seen or believed to have been lost. In our judgment, the USM-134 should capture information such as the date the property loss was discovered to aid the investigation and possible recovery.
NCIC Report – The NCIC system is generally regarded by law enforcement agencies to be the primary nationwide method for tracking stolen firearms. The USMS Firearms Policy requires each lost or stolen weapon to be entered into NCIC,and the resulting “NIC” number is included on the USM-134. We examined NCIC records to determine if the six lost and stolen USMS weapons were promptly entered into the system. We determined that three were promptly reported and had an active NCIC record as of November 5, 2001. One weapon was reported lost on January 29, 2001, but was not entered into NCIC until February 13, 2001.
The remaining two weapons had not been entered into NCIC. According to the supporting documents, one weapon was in a vehicle that was destroyed in a fire in July 2001. The file for the remaining weapon indicated it was destroyed along with several similar weapons in May 2000, and inadvertently left off the destruction certification. According to Property Office personnel, since these weapons were not unaccounted for, they were not appropriate for entry into NCIC.
During our review of the NCIC records, we noted that the USM-134 did not have a field for recording the “NIC” number. As previously noted, USMS guidelines require this information to be provided; however, only one of the USM-134s reviewed was appropriately annotated. In our judgment, adding this field to the form could act as a reminder to enter lost or stolen weapons into NCIC.
Board of Survey – Upon receipt of loss reports, the Property Office must refer to the Board of Survey all losses of property with an acquisition cost in excess of $1,000, and all incidents that are possibly the result of willful intent, gross negligence, misuse, theft, or misconduct. Although not expressly required, Property Office officials stated that all weapons losses are referred to the Board. The Property Manual requires the Board to review all Property Office referrals.
The Board consists of a Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, and approximately three other voting members appointed by the Director.16 In addition, USMS Headquarters property management, legal, and personnel representatives serve in non-voting advisory positions. The Board is required to review each loss report, determine employee responsibility, and recommend pecuniary liability, if warranted. In instances where employees are found responsible, the case is referred to the Employee Relations Division for possible disciplinary action. Upon completion of the Board’s actions, the item may be removed from the accountable property inventory.
According to Property Office personnel, the Board of Survey generally meets three to four times per year, or within four months of a reported loss. However, we noted that the Board had not convened since November 2000. A meeting was scheduled for August 2001 but was postponed due to conflicting priorities. The Board was again scheduled to meet in late January 2002, but we were informed that the meeting did not take place because of conflicting priorities.17
We examined available Board of Survey files to determine if prompt action was taken to review the 62 lost and stolen weapons and laptop computers. In total, 50 of the items (4 weapons and 46 laptop computers) have not been adjudicated because they were reported after the Board’s last meeting in November 2000.
The Board reviewed the remaining 12 items approximately 3 to 6 months after the loss reports were filed. The files reflected that the Board did not recommend disciplinary action in any of these cases because it did not find employee negligence. However, in response to the loss of three laptop computers, the Board issued letters to the responsible offices stating that the losses could have been prevented through closer compliance with property regulations. In addition, in response to the loss of six laptop computers in one office, the Board requested written assurance that controls had been strengthened and requested the Program Review Team to perform a property management review. At the time of our audit, the results of this review were not available.
In our judgment, the Board of Survey should meet regularly to ensure that property losses, especially sensitive items such as firearms and laptop computers, are reviewed expeditiously. In addition, meeting postponements should require approval of the Director or Deputy Director. The USMS should also revise its Property Manual to require the referral of all weapons losses to the Board of Survey.
Department Semiannual Report – Department regulations18 require all components to submit a semiannual report to the Department Security Officer summarizing losses of property that occurred during the previous six months. The component’s Security Programs Manager is required to prepare and submit the reports by January 31 and July 31 for the preceding six-month periods.
The USMS Office of Security reached an agreement with the Department Security Officer to submit annual reports for 2000 and 2001, instead of two semiannual reports per year. The USMS’s submissions during our two-year audit period are detailed in the following table.
|REPORTING PERIOD||DUE DATE||DATE
|July 1 to December 31,1999||January 31, 2000||January 31, 2000|
|January 1 to December 31, 2000||January 31, 2001||February 28, 2001|
|January 1 to December 31, 2001||January 31, 2002||Not submitted|
|Source: Department Security Officer|
We reviewed the reports submitted, compared them to the Property Office’s list of lost and stolen weapons and laptop computers, and noted the following discrepancies.
Indications of Public Harm
We attempted to determine if the USMS’s losses of weapons and laptop computers resulted in harm to the public through loss of information or physical injury. For the lost weapons we queried NCIC and the Department of Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) National Tracing Center database for any indication that law enforcement personnel recovered them through subsequent illegal activity. Neither system provided us with an indication that the weapons had been recovered or otherwise linked to criminal activity.
The USMS and SEPS officials told us that no USMS laptop computers were authorized to process classified materials as of August 2001. However, since six of the lost laptop computers were assigned to the USMS Investigative Services Division, Protective Operations Program, we inquired about the possibility of compromised sensitive witness information. Program officials informed us that personnel are restricted from placing sensitive information on their computers and, therefore, no compromising information should have been lost. Because the USM-134 does not capture the classification or sensitivity of information maintained on these computers and we did not have the ability to check the actual machines, this assertion could not be verified. In our judgment, the USMS should revise the USM-134 to include the level of classification or sensitivity of information maintained on computers or other equipment with data storage capability.
The USMS reported 6 weapons and 56 laptop computers as lost or stolen during the 2 years covered by our audit. Although the number of reported losses is small, the sensitive nature of these items and the possibility for public harm heightens the significance of each loss. Many of these losses were identified during physical inventories and were attributed to undocumented transfers or disposals.
As shown in the report, various reporting procedures were not always performed timely and some losses have not been reported to the Department Security Officer as required. Further, the USMS Board of Survey has not convened since November 2000 and 50 of 62 reported losses have not been adjudicated. We also found that the reporting process does not ensure that all necessary information is captured to aid the investigations and possible recovery.
We recommend that the Director of the USMS: