GAO reports progress on info classification at Justice, FBI

A report from the Government Accountability Office says the Justice Department has significantly improved the way it handles classified information, but the agency has not corrected one of the most glaring problems: staff shortages.

Increased staffing was one of the recommendations made by the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office, which reviewed security procedures at DOJ in July 2004 and April 2005. GAO was brought in this year to assess how well DOJ and its FBI component were following the recommendations.

The agencies have made a lot of progress in a lot of areas, according to GAO's report. “DOJ, however, has taken no action on the most important recommendation, addressing staff shortages, which continue to place its program at risk,” the document states.

Justice said it does not have the resources to address the staff shortages, according to the report. The department said it “is trying to address its resources constraints, a longstanding problem that GAO identified as early as 1993, by requesting additional funds from an administrative account in fiscal year 2007.”

But Justice officials acknowledged they do not know precisely how many new employees they would need because they have not fully assessed those needs, the report said. “It also does not have a strategy that identifies how it will use additional resources to address remaining deficiencies,” the report added.

Justice had taken action on five of 10 recommendations, “including fixing problems with outdated and insufficient training and insufficient monitoring of components’ programs,” GAO said.

The report found that five department components — the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Criminal Division; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the FBI; and the U.S. Marshals Service — were experiencing problems designating sensitive but unclassified information.

The components had no specific guides to help employees determine when to use that designation, GAO found.

Justice said it is awaiting the results of an interagency working group charged with setting governmentwide standards for sensitive but unclassified information before it will consider making any changes to that category. The working group is expected to release its findings next month.

GAO found that the FBI had taken action on 11 of its 12 recommendations, including updating most of its guidelines on classifying documents and issuing new security regulations.

The report also noted that the bureau is revising its training and oversight activities. “If FBI completes all recommendations, this will help to lower program risk since it makes 98 percent of DOJ’s classification decisions,” it states.

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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