WASHINGTON – The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has sufficient controls over its explosives but serious weaknesses in its controls over weapons, laptop computers and ammunition, according to an audit released Wednesday by the bureau's inspector general's office.
The audit found that 76 ATF weapons and 418 laptops were lost, stolen or missing over five years until 2007.
The rate of loss per month for weapons has nearly tripled and risen dramatically for laptops since a 2002 audit by the Department of Treasury, which was then overseeing the ATF.
ATF officials said the higher rate of laptop losses resulted primarily from adjustments ATF made to its inventory records to correct inaccurate data. But the report says that explanation lacks sufficient evidence.
The report found 53 percent of the weapons missing appeared to have resulted from the carelessness of employees or failure to follow ATF policy.
The ATF's rate for missing weapons and laptops was significantly higher than that of the FBI and the DEA, the report said.
"It is especially troubling that the ATF's rate of loss for weapons was nearly double that of the FBI and DEA, and that the ATF did not even know whether most of its lost, stolen, or missing laptop computers contained sensitive or classified information," the report stated.
The report made 14 recommendations to help ATF improve contols, including reporting all missing weapons and laptops to ATF's internal affairs division; install encryption software on all its laptops and determine whether missing laptops contained sensitive information.
The ATF praised the diligence of the inspector general's office and said it would accept the recommendations.
"ATF is committed to strengthening controls over weapons, laptops and ammunition by more strictly enforcing established agency policies and by developing new procedures outlined in our response to the OIG," ATF Assistant Director W. Larry Ford said in a written statement.
Ford noted that the ATF took "appropriate disciplinary action against employees whose negligence or improper handling of their weapons resulted in the weapon being stolen, lost or misplaced. Still, ATF is revising procedures for reporting losses and will issue a memorandum to all employees as a reminder of their responsibility to account for losses in a timely manner."