Spotlight turned on FBI systems

Senate Judiciary Committee testimony: FBI oversight hearing

The FBI's antiquated computer system will be under the microscope in the coming months.

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Wednesday that he has ordered a comprehensive review of the FBI, including its inadequate computer systems.

The Justice Department's review comes as the Senate Judiciary Committee held the first of a series of hearings into management problems at the bureau. Lawmakers proposed measures designed to fix the FBI, which was criticized as arrogant and insular. Those measures include the creation of a "blue ribbon" panel to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the bureau and the creation of an FBI inspector general position.

The FBI has been reeling from problems in recent years, including the discovery in May of its failure to turn over thousands of documents in connection with the trial of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. The delay in handing over those documents has been blamed in part on the FBI's inadequate computers.

Ashcroft, in a memo to deputy attorney general Larry Thompson, ordered the comprehensive review to "identify and recommend actions dedicated to improving and upgrading the performance of the FBI."

The Strategic Management Council, a new organization created by Ashcroft to provide long-range planning, will conduct the review. The council is headed by Thompson and includes senior Justice officials and directors of the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Prisons.

Ashcroft said that the council's review will include a management study of the FBI's policies and practices by an outside company focusing on IT, personnel, crisis management and performance appraisal.

The FBI already has two targeted reviews ongoing. The Justice inspector general is investigating the issues in the McVeigh snafu, and former FBI and CIA director William Webster is leading a group that will make recommendations for improving the bureau's national security measures. The Webster review was launched following the arrest of Robert Hanssen, a long-time FBI counterintelligence agent who is accused of spying for the Russians for 15 years.

Ashcroft asked that those investigations be completed by Nov. 1 so the findings can inform the Strategic Management Council's report, which will be completed by January.

Meanwhile lawmakers are proposing fixes for the FBI:

* Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) have proposed expanding the powers of the current inspector general. The Justice IG cannot conduct an investigation without the attorney general's approval.

* Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) have proposed creating a blue-ribbon commission that would conduct a "top-to-bottom" review of the bureau.

* Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) have proposed creating a separate inspector general for the FBI.

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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