Justice shift calls for better IT

The Justice Department is shifting its focus from prosecuting crimes that have already occurred to identifying and preventing terrorism before it happens. To do that, the department needs better information technology, Attorney General John Ashcroft said.

In an announcement of "wartime reorganization and mobilization" Nov. 8, Ashcroft said, "We must have information technology from this decade, not from several generations ago."

"Major city police departments are better equipped today than is the Justice Department," Ashcroft told an assembly of senior Justice officials.

Better computers and databases and greater capability to share information are essential for a coordinated response to terrorism, he said. But Ashcroft left the details to his subordinates.

"Develop a comprehensive information technology plan to support strategic goals and improve information management," he instructed department heads. And "develop and implement a service plan that is citizen-centered and includes appropriate online citizen accessibility."

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Justice asked the public to send tips on terrorism to a department Web site.

In recent years, government auditors have repeatedly pointed out information technology troubles in the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, both branches of the Justice Department.

FBI problems have ranged from aged desktop computers that are unable to effectively use the Internet to hundreds of missing laptop computers to poorly managed databases.

INS problems include inability to track foreigners whose visas have expired or who are wanted for crimes.

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