Another Federal Law Enforcement Agency is Hit For Losing Track of Weapons, Ammunition

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies on Capitol Hill in June.

No matter how hard he tries, Uncle Sam can’t stop his cops from losing track of their guns and ammunition.

The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) provides the latest example of a recurring problem that has long vexed federal law enforcement.

A new report by the Justice Department’s inspector general “identified significant deficiencies related to tracking weapons, ammunition, and less lethal munitions, as well as noncompliance with ammunition policy requirements.”

One startling stat — the Marshals Service had not tracked nearly 2.45 million rounds of ammunition before the audit.

Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz made it clear the Marshals Service “generally had strong physical controls over its weapons, munitions, and explosives” during the period of the audit, fiscal 2015 through June 2018.

That’s good but not good enough, particularly given the government’s troubled history in this area.

· The inspector general in Department of Homeland Security reported in 2010 on carelessness with weapons over a two-year period. That report said almost 300 shotguns, pistols and M4 rifles were lost from fiscal 2006 to 2008, mostly because “officers did not properly secure them.”

· In April, we wrote about another Horowitz report on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which like the Marshals Service basically has good weapons controls. Nonetheless, ATF had “26 instances of lost, stolen, or missing firearms,” including one that was later used in a crime, between fiscal 2014 and 2017. That report referred to other studies from as early as 2002 about “control weaknesses over [ATF] ammunition inventories.”

· DHS was the subject of another audit a year ago over its loss of 228 firearms, 1,889 badges and 25 secure immigration stamps from fiscal 2014 through 2016.

· In March 2016, Horowitz’s office documented deficiencies with Federal Bureau of Prisons “controls and practices for safeguarding armory munitions and equipment that increase the risk that these materials could be lost, misplaced or stolen without being detected.”

The Marshals Service comprises 3,500 deputies and criminal investigators who are federal employees and 5,200 contract court security officers. They are assigned to 310 locations plus three foreign posts. The employees may use personally owned, agency authorized firearms on duty, including primary and secondary handguns, rifles and shotguns. The contractors are given handguns for duty use that they are not allowed to carry when off duty.

Horowitz’s new report “identified significant concerns with the Marshal’s Service inventory controls over ammunition,” his statement said. “In particular, the Marshal’s Service existing policies did not explicitly include its ammunition tracking requirements, and we found that the Marshals Service had not tracked about 2 and a half million rounds of ammunition. Separately, we identified 110 firearms that the Marshals Service had not properly tracked for as long as 16 months. This created a risk that the firearms could be lost, misplaced, stolen, or otherwise compromised without detection. We also found that 23 firearms were reported lost or stolen, but the Marshals Service did not track whether the firearms were recovered after the completion of the Internal Affairs investigation.”

In one “particularly concerning” example, the report cited a property officer in New Mexico who was “unaware of the fact that the Las Cruces office had received 20 firearms in November 2017, until she conducted the annual property inventory in March 2018. At that time, Deputy U.S. Marshals, who were already assigned the rifles, showed her the firearms along with the other property assigned to them. However, she did not record the new firearms in PACES at that time because her role as the property officer is a collateral duty and she did not know how to enter new property into the system.” PACES is the agency’s electronic property management tool.

In another case, it took the Marshals Service’s New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force 497 days to record two rifles. Of 18 Marshals Service sites studied, the audit said, “16 did not fully comply with the USMS’s ammunition tracking and inventory requirements.” Less lethal weapons, such as tear gas and pepper spray, were not tracked at all by the service before the audit, leading the report to conclude that “this is a control weakness that increases the risk of these items being lost, misplaced, or stolen without detection.”

The Marshals Service has almost 30,000 weapons, so the loss or theft of less than two dozen over a few years is barely noticeable. But only nine of those have been recovered. Two that were had been left in courthouse restrooms. The bulk of the 23 were stolen or missing from government or personal vehicles.

The service agreed with recommendations to help the agency keep better track of its munitions. The inspector general’s recommendations include implementing centralized procedures for entering weapons in the property management system and for tracking the status of lost and stolen guns.

Horowitz’s office also told the agency to remind “all USMS districts and divisions that they are required to use ammunition registers to track all ammunition.”

A statement from the Marshals Service to The Washington Post said its training divisions “reminded all USMS districts and divisions of the requirement to use ammunition registers to track all ammunition. Additionally, the OIG found no loss of ammunition.”

It’s a requirement that should not need a reminder.