The federal agency that's supposed to keep track of foreigners in this country can't keep track of its own equipment.
The Justice Department's inspector general says an audit of the Immigration and Naturalization Service showed that up to 61,000 items worth nearly $70 million were missing.
More than 500 weapons, including six guns eventually linked to crimes, were lost. And the INS' lack of reporting on equipment costing less than $1,000 left nearly 12,000 desktop and laptop computers unaccounted for.
The investigation dates back to 1998.
The report, released Tuesday, said the agency "did not adequately safeguard property" and "without immediate corrective actions, property will remain at substantial risk."
According to the inspector general, items that may have been lost or stolen include a gas-grenade launcher and thirty-nine automatic rifles and machine guns. All told, there were 539 weapons missing, many from INS headquarters in Washington and its training facility in Glynco, Ga. A follow-up investigation found that six of the missing weapons had been linked to crimes, including a homicide.
"The fact that INS weapons ended up in the hands of criminals is cause for serious concern," wrote the inspector general.
INS official Michael A. Pearson said the situation was being reviewed and "upon the identification of gross negligence the case will be referred to the appropriate management officials for disciplinary action."
INS spokesman Greg Gagne says the report offered a "snapshot of a lot of our past inadequacies." He said the agency has mandated better record keeping and employee training.
"We're in a whole lot better shape than when this snapshot was taken," he said. "We have tightened the entire process up."
The report also noted that "the INS's lack of physical inventories of computers with data storage capability places its equipment at risk for loss, which could result in authorized persons gains access to sensitive information." It did not give any examples of computer security lapses.
The report did praise the agency for improving record keeping over the past three years.
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