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FCW Insider: FBI: The check isn't in the mail

I heard this story on the radio yesterday but didn't have time to mention it, but... Slate.com's Today's Papers gets it right: It's "funny-if-it-weren't-so-outrageous news."

USAT fronts, and the WP goes inside with, the funny-if-it-weren't-so-outrageous news that telecommunications companies have cut off some FBI wiretaps of suspected terrorists and criminals because the bureau didn't pay its phone bills. A report by the Justice Department's inspector general reviewed almost 1,000 bills and found that more than half were not paid on time. "It sounds as though the telecoms believe it when the FBI says the warrant is in the mail, but not when they say the check is in the mail," said an ACLU staffer.

You can read the Justice Department IG report for yourself here. The IG has only posted a summary of the 87 page report because the FBI said that the full report contained too much sensitive information.

And the non-payment is just the tip of the story -- and it seems that this is related to FBI's ongoing struggle to get a good case management system in place. As a result of that and a less than perfect financial management system, "in June 2006 a telecommunication specialist at an FBI field division pled guilty to stealing over $25,000 in confidential case funds intended for undercover telecommunication services. The investigation showed that the employee took advantage of weak controls over field division confidential funds to convert FBI monies for her own use."

Follow the money -- and this is another demonstration as to why financial management systems are so important.

Each FBI field division has a third party draft office that disburses confidential case funds to pay for undercover activities such as telecommunication surveillance, leases, and rental cars. Functioning like a small bank, third party draft offices review and record requests and distribute drafts for confidential case funds. Since 1986, FBI third party draft offices have used the FBI’s Financial Management System (FMS), a commercially developed information system, to track and pay requests for field division confidential case funds. According to FBI Finance Division officials, however, FMS is an antiquated information system, and third party draft personnel must work around the system’s limitations to enter and track confidential fund requests. For example, FMS does not allow users to enter various details for confidential case payments such as the commercial vendor name or the invoice number.

In an effort to mitigate various FMS weaknesses that have been identified over time, the FBI has developed procedural controls, independent of FMS, that employees at its field divisions should perform when tracking confidential case funds.2 As demonstrated by the FBI employee who stole funds intended to support undercover activities, procedural controls by themselves have not ensured proper tracking and use of confidential case funds. As a result, our review outlines automated controls that we believe the FBI should incorporate into FMS to help it improve confidential case fund management.

Funny, if it weren't so outrageous.

Posted by Christopher J. Dorobek on Jan 11, 2008 at 12:17 PM


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