FBI director blasts management

Freeh's testimony

FBI Director Louis Freeh blamed leadership failures on the loss of more than 3,100 pages of documents in the case of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, and he pledged to put a "world-class" records expert to work at the bureau.

Testifying before a House subcommittee Wednesday, Freeh acknowledged that investigators had enough concerns about the FBI's computer systems that they created their own database to track Oklahoma City bombing case documents.

But he said problems rest largely with the leadership of the organization. "This wasn't a computer problem. This was a management problem," Freeh told the House Appropriations Committee's Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary Subcommittee.

"We simply have too little management attention focused on what has become, over time, a monumental task" of dealing with the millions of records created by FBI investigations, he said.

Freeh told lawmakers that the bureau made a serious error when it failed to provide the documents. He noted that FBI headquarters had requested the documents 11 times, and field offices failed to provide the materials.

"Regardless of how extraneous these documents are, if they were covered by the discovery agreement, they should have been located and released during discovery," Freeh said.

The FBI will create a new organization that will focus on the traditionally "mundane" issue of records collection, Freeh told the committee.

"The dizzying pace of the evolution of crime, terrorism and technology, I believe, has caused us to lessen our focus [on records management], a function so basic that perhaps we have taken it for granted. Not any more," Freeh testified.

The FBI will form a separate office of records management and policy. Freeh said that his deputy director has been put in charge of a search committee that will find "a world-class records expert, a senior official who will be dedicated to this issue and this issue alone."

Furthermore, he said he will revise the plan for the recently awarded Trilogy project "to include sophisticated document handling accountability and auditing functions to support...supervision of these issues." Trilogy is the FBI's multimillion-dollar modernization effort.

During his testimony, Freeh detailed the decision for creating a separate database for documents related to the Oklahoma City bombing.

At the time, the FBI was converting to a bureau-wide investigative information system — the Automated Case Support System — and agents were concerned about how the conversion would affect the ongoing Oklahoma City bombing investigation.

In addition, the investigation's command post had difficulties ensuring that field officers were coordinating their investigative materials with the records maintained in Oklahoma City, he said. "Investigators in Oklahoma City believed they could better ensure that the information was properly entered into the system, maintain the investigation's confidentiality, and more effectively identify and prioritize additional investigative leads," he testified.

But when FBI archivists started collecting material for storage, they discovered that thousands of documents in the field offices had never been turned over to prosecutors.

Freeh said there are three explanations for the lost documents: most FBI offices either failed to locate the documents, misinterpreted their instructions to send the documents or sent the documents only to have them unaccounted for on the other end.

"Any of these cases is unacceptable," he said.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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