Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed their outrage Wednesday morning at a Justice Department report that estimated the FBI had lost track of 449 guns and 180 computers over the past decade.
"There are some very, very serious management problems at the FBI," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who chairs the committee. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the committee's top Republican, stated: "This is simply inexcusable."
"Who is held accountable?" Leahy demanded at a Judiciary Committee hearing.
"At the time, actually, there was no one held accountable," said Kenneth Senser, the FBI's deputy assistant director in charge of internal security, "in the sense that the FBI policy was very clear on the control of laptop computers."
"You're saying nobody's held accountable? So you can have laptops with classified information, so you sort of leave it up to the person with it to make sure it's turned in when they're supposed to be?" Leahy said. "We have a better system here in the Senate."
Senser added that since the arrest of Robert Hanssen, who is accused of selling state secrets to Moscow while a counterintelligence agent, the FBI has increased its security systems and protocols.
"Is there a system in place today so if you have a computer with classified information that somebody in the FBI can say at 2 o'clock this afternoon 'I know where every one of the computers is with classified information and who has them?'" Leahy asked.
"Today, yes, that is true," Senser said.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, who did not appear before the committee, defended the FBI in response to questions at a Wednesday-morning news conference.
"Any time firearms are missing, it's a serious circumstance," Ashcroft said. But he added that he was concerned that the FBI not be "discredited unduly."
"You know, the FBI has about twenty-eight thousand people in the agency and a number of weapons in the agency," Ashcroft said. "It could have as high as, you know, fifty thousand weapons."
"Very frankly," Ashcroft said, "I would hope that we would never be unable to locate any single one of these assets," but added that with 50,000 weapons it was likely that some would be lost.
He said he discussed the problem of missing equipment with Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard and said that "he understood the seriousness" of the problem.
"He did not take it lightly," Ashcroft said. "If I've learned one thing about the FBI since I came to the Justice Department, it is that it is essential to the viability and success of the nation."
"The FBI has been responding constructively," Ashcroft said, adding that the bureau brought to his attention the belated discovery of documents in the Oklahoma City bombing case in time for him to delay Tim McVeigh's execution by one month.
The House Judiciary Committee matched its Senate counterpart's view of the matter.
"Large FBI foul-ups used to be extraordinary events, yet now they appear to be deteriorating into regular occurrences," said the committee chairman, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.
The senators have complained for weeks that the FBI has a culture of covering up its mistakes and have offered several bills to reform the agency, including provisions for outside reviews and more power for agency watchdogs such as the inspector general's office.
The missing computers and weapons revealed Tuesday were discovered during a comprehensive inventory of equipment undertaken at the behest of the Justice Department. FBI officials said Tuesday the bureau tracks lost weapons, but this was the first time a serious effort was mounted to try to get an accounting of missing equipment from all FBI field offices.
Besides the theft of 184 FBI weapons, 265 were lost, said FBI and Justice officials, discussing the problem on condition of anonymity. Most of the missing weapons are handguns, officials said, but submachine guns are included.
Ninety-one of the missing guns were training weapons with firing pins removed, but one of the missing weapons had been used in a homicide, officials said. They gave no additional details.
In all 184 laptops are missing, including 13 believed to have been stolen, officials said. They said that in addition to one computer known to have contained classified information, three other missing machines might also have had classified material.
FOX News' Bryan Sierra and the Associated Press contributed to this report