Firearms Controls:

Federal Agencies Have Firearms Controls, but Could Strengthen Controls in Key Areas

GAO-03-688: Published: Jun 13, 2003. Publicly Released: Jun 30, 2003.

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In March 2001, the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General reported that the Immigration and Naturalization Service could not account for over 500 of its firearms. Furthermore, in July 2001, the Federal Bureau of Investigation disclosed that 449 of its firearms were lost or stolen. Given the possible threat that lost, stolen, or missing firearms poses to the public, GAO assessed (1) the consistency of federal agencies' firearms controls with federal internal control standards and related criteria; and (2) compliance by Justice and Treasury agencies with established firearms controls and improvements made to strengthen and enforce controls.

GAO found that all 18 federal agencies reviewed, which accounted for over 95 percent of federal officers and agents authorized to carry firearms, had policies and procedures for controlling and safeguarding firearms that were consistent with federal internal control standards and related criteria. However, agencies could strengthen their controls in key areas that have been consistently recognized as important for effective inventory management. These areas include recording and tracking firearms inventory data; maintaining, controlling, and accounting for firearms inventories; ensuring personal and supervisory accountability for firearms; and requiring investigations, and discipline when deemed appropriate, for individuals determined not to have followed firearms accountability procedures. Although agencies established policies and procedures to control firearms, audits conducted by the Departments of Justice and the Treasury found that agencies did not always follow established procedures, or implement procedures, for conducting periodic inventories, reporting and investigating missing firearms, and securing firearms inventories. Since these weaknesses were identified, we found that agencies have implemented, or are in the process of implementing, actions to strengthen their firearms controls. In addition, 15 of the 18 federal agencies GAO reviewed reported a total of 1,012 firearms as lost, stolen, or otherwise not in their possession between September 30, 1998 and July 2002, further indicating the need for stronger controls. Of these firearms, 188 were recovered, leaving 824 firearms still missing. While we could not determine the exact percentage of agency firearms that were reported lost, stolen, or missing, it appears that these firearms generally accounted for less than 1 percent of agencies' total firearms inventories. In independent reviews of selected missing firearms cases, the Departments of Justice and the Treasury identified instances of firearms recovered in connection with criminal activity or during the course of criminal investigations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 2003, the Chief Postal Inspector reported that as of March 31, 2003, the USPS Firearms Inventory Task Force had completed the physical inventory of firearms and ammunition at 18 Postal Inspection field offices and headquarters' units. Subsequently, the Chief Postal Inspector issued a policy update, requiring certification by the Postal Inspector in Charge at each division or unit that the physical inventory was conducted and the findings were accurate. In June 2004, the Deputy Chief Postal Inspector reported updated information on lost/stolen firearms. He reported that corrections were made to the Postal Service database and additional lost/stolen weapons were reported to the National Crime Information Center. In June 2004, the Chief Postal reported establishing a working group to reassess and strengthen Postal Service policies and procedures to report and document lost/stolen firearms.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General; the Secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security; the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and the Postmaster General should periodically assess existing policies and procedures designed to control and safeguard firearms and determine whether they have been effective, or should be modified to help prevent future firearms losses. In assessing firearms controls, agencies should use as guides (1) internal control standards issued by GAO, Joint Financial Management Improvement Program, and Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc; and (2) audits conducted by the Department of Justice OIG, Department of the Treasury OIG, and TIGTA of agencies firearms controls.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: National Institutes of Health

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2003, DOJ reported that it had established a Property Management Specialist team to conduct unannounced audits of DOJ components to ensure accountability and compliance with internal controls. However, in August 2004, DOJ indicated that because of staff and budget reductions, DOJ components have been unable to support site visits. For fiscal year 2006, DOJ requested funding to support unannounced audits. A proposal was submitted to a vendor to conduct 10 audits, but DOJ reported that the cost was about four times greater than internally conducted audits. DOJ's inspection/audit protocol was completed in October 2003. In addition, a self-assessment protocol, which is to educate and collect information to assess property management compliance and management, was finalized in May 2004, and was being implemented in August 2004. The results are to be shared with Bureau Property Management Officers to develop training packages and/or standard operating procedures to address identified problems or program weaknesses.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General; the Secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security; the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and the Postmaster General should periodically assess existing policies and procedures designed to control and safeguard firearms and determine whether they have been effective, or should be modified to help prevent future firearms losses. In assessing firearms controls, agencies should use as guides (1) internal control standards issued by GAO, Joint Financial Management Improvement Program, and Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc; and (2) audits conducted by the Department of Justice OIG, Department of the Treasury OIG, and TIGTA of agencies firearms controls.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on GAO's draft report, the Department of Veterans Affairs expressed concern regarding this recommendation, as VA found no basis in the report's narrative to indicate that VA lacked appropriate policies or internal controls and VA had clearly established policies and procedures. In responding to VA's comment, GAO stated that VA was a good example (having increased the number of field sites with firearms from 27 to more than 100) of when organization changes necessitate a reevaluation of agency firearms controls to reduce the risk of potential firearms losses. In October 2003, responding to GAO's comment, VA stated that the department's policies and procedures were designed to accommodate the increase. As each facility implements the arms program, its officers are provided training related to firearms security; the facility must provide its firearms policy to VA's Office of Security and Law Enforcement (OS&LE) for review and concurrence; OS&LE carries out a site visit to ensure that the controls are in place; and then the facility may arm its officers. Furthermore, as a followup, OS&LE conducts biennial inspections of each facility's conformance with mandated policies and procedures to ensure that the policy integrity is maintained and updated as necessary.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General; the Secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security; the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and the Postmaster General should periodically assess existing policies and procedures designed to control and safeguard firearms and determine whether they have been effective, or should be modified to help prevent future firearms losses. In assessing firearms controls, agencies should use as guides (1) internal control standards issued by GAO, Joint Financial Management Improvement Program, and Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc; and (2) audits conducted by the Department of Justice OIG, Department of the Treasury OIG, and TIGTA of agencies firearms controls.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2004, the Department of the Interior, Office of Law Enforcement and Security, reported that department manual revisions regarding firearms compliance program and departmental oversight had been drafted and were currently under review. In December 2003, the Fish and Wildlife Service reported that in response to the GAO and related Treasury OIG report, its Service Property Office had conducted a midyear inquiry to determine if additional modifications were needed to the property and law enforcement manuals that were under revision and concluded that all required changes had been identified. In December 2003, the National Park Service (NPS) reported that its Ranger Activity Division and the U.S. Park Police had reviewed existing policies and procedures designed to control and safeguard firearms. The NPS also made policies and procedures controlling the safeguarding of weapons a top priority throughout its Ranger and Park Police components. In addition, the NPS Washington Property Office issued and distributed throughout NPS a Personal Property Management Technical Instruction Notice providing fundamental guidance and instructions on the inventory and control of weapons; the Office is to provide oversight by monitoring the semiannual weapons inventories of the two components. To conduct their assessment, these agencies reported using the standards recommended in GAO's report.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General; the Secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security; the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and the Postmaster General should periodically assess existing policies and procedures designed to control and safeguard firearms and determine whether they have been effective, or should be modified to help prevent future firearms losses. In assessing firearms controls, agencies should use as guides (1) internal control standards issued by GAO, Joint Financial Management Improvement Program, and Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc; and (2) audits conducted by the Department of Justice OIG, Department of the Treasury OIG, and TIGTA of agencies firearms controls.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of September 2007, the Department of Homeland Security provided documentation that the subject components had periodically assessed their policies and procedures designed to control and safeguard firearms to determine if they were effective and made modifications, as needed. The subject components' assessments, policies and procedures generally reflected internal control standards noted in GAO's report.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General; the Secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security; the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and the Postmaster General should periodically assess existing policies and procedures designed to control and safeguard firearms and determine whether they have been effective, or should be modified to help prevent future firearms losses. In assessing firearms controls, agencies should use as guides (1) internal control standards issued by GAO, Joint Financial Management Improvement Program, and Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc; and (2) audits conducted by the Department of Justice OIG, Department of the Treasury OIG, and TIGTA of agencies firearms controls.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In August 2007, we contacted the Treasury Department. Treasury officials stated that they had not responded to GAO's recommendations because the component agencies to which the recommendations were primarily directed (Customs and the Secret Service) were absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security, and thus the recommendations were no longer relevant. The official acknowledged that GAO's recommendations also applied, to some extent, to Treasury's Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), as well as the U.S. Mint, but that neither agency has reported taking action to address the recommendations. At the time of GAO's review, the BEP and U.S. Mint had no reported firearms lost or stolen (i.e., from September 30, 1998 to July 2002).

    Recommendation: The Attorney General; the Secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security; the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and the Postmaster General should periodically assess existing policies and procedures designed to control and safeguard firearms and determine whether they have been effective, or should be modified to help prevent future firearms losses. In assessing firearms controls, agencies should use as guides (1) internal control standards issued by GAO, Joint Financial Management Improvement Program, and Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc; and (2) audits conducted by the Department of Justice OIG, Department of the Treasury OIG, and TIGTA of agencies firearms controls.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) agreed with GAO's recommendation and in September 2003 and August 2004, the NIH Director provided a status report on the steps NIH was taking to implement the recommendation. NIH reported that it had updated its property database in June 2003, and again in October 2003, and that a complete reconciliation was conducted and records were updated to reflect any discrepancies.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General; the Secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security; the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and the Postmaster General should periodically assess existing policies and procedures designed to control and safeguard firearms and determine whether they have been effective, or should be modified to help prevent future firearms losses. In assessing firearms controls, agencies should use as guides (1) internal control standards issued by GAO, Joint Financial Management Improvement Program, and Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc; and (2) audits conducted by the Department of Justice OIG, Department of the Treasury OIG, and TIGTA of agencies firearms controls.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2003, the Fish and Wildlife Service (F&WS) and National Park Service (NPS) reported completing firearms inventories in fiscal year 2003. In addition, F&WS provided the results of its reports of survey and NPS provided the results of its random physical inventories of weapons. F&WS indicated it had drafted revisions for its manuals pertaining to firearms. NPS reported that it used a centralized Fixed Asset Subsystem to track and control all law enforcement weapons and that during the annual weapons qualifications; it cross-referenced weapons in the Park Service and Ranger Activity databases to the person to whom the weapon was assigned.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General; the Secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security; the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and the Postmaster General should document internal controls in agency policies and procedures to the maximum extent practical to help ensure that they are consistently understood and applied.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To respond to findings identified in GAO's report and the related DOJ OIG report (02-31, August 2002), DOJ Property Management Services updated the Justice Property Management Regulation, DOJ Order 2400-3. For example, the updated regulation (1) required notification of the National Crime Information Center and local law enforcement officials immediately if a suspected loss/theft of property such as firearms, and (2) implemented an employee exit clearance checklist form to be completed to ensure retrieval of all department property including firearms. In addition, in June 2004, the DOJ Property Management Work Group was asked to thoroughly review policies and procedures and put in specific language to address accountability of sensitive property. The changes in DOJ's policies and procedures relative to firearms were to be finalized in the fall of 2004.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General; the Secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security; the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and the Postmaster General should document internal controls in agency policies and procedures to the maximum extent practical to help ensure that they are consistently understood and applied.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Management

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of September 2007, the Department of Homeland Security provided policies and procedures from subject components that documented internal control standards directed toward ensuring that firearms are appropriately safeguarded.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General; the Secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security; the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and the Postmaster General should document internal controls in agency policies and procedures to the maximum extent practical to help ensure that they are consistently understood and applied.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: National Institutes of Health

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on GAO's report, the Department of Veterans Affairs stated that the fact that the VA had no lost, stolen, or missing firearms during the period of GAO's review was based on existing controls and the fact that VA police officers document the handling of firearms on a daily basis. Specifically, VA police officers (1) generally do not remove their firearms from department property, (2) must check their assigned firearms out of and back into the armory each day, and (3) conduct monthly inventories of all firearms, ammunition, and magazines. In addition, unannounced inventories and spot checks are conducted of firearms, ammunition, and magazines; property management conducts independent annual inventories; there are additional procedures, such as immediate notification of the FBI of a missing firearm; and OS&LE conducts biennial on-site inspections.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General; the Secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security; the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and the Postmaster General should document internal controls in agency policies and procedures to the maximum extent practical to help ensure that they are consistently understood and applied.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  12. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In August 2007, we contacted the Treasury Department. Treasury officials stated that they had not responded to GAO's recommendations because the component agencies to which the recommendations were primarily directed (Customs and the Secret Service) were absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security, and thus the recommendations were no longer relevant. The official acknowledged that GAO's recommendations also applied, to some extent, to Treasury's Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), as well as the U.S. Mint, but that neither agency has reported taking action to address the recommendations. At the time of GAO's review, the BEP and U.S. Mint had no reported firearms lost or stolen (i.e., from September 30, 1998 to July 2002).

    Recommendation: The Attorney General; the Secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security; the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and the Postmaster General should document internal controls in agency policies and procedures to the maximum extent practical to help ensure that they are consistently understood and applied.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  13. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 2003, the Chief Postal Inspector reported that two policy updates had been drafted for issuance to Inspection Service personnel. The first update pertained to data entry into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) data base and the Inspection Service Case Management System in order to ensure entry into NCIC and to track lost and stolen firearms through the Postal System's data base. The second policy was directed toward reducing the number of excess firearms in the field and ammunition maintained by Inspection Service divisions in order to minimize the possibility of firearms being lost. In addition, the National Threat Management Coordinator was reassigned to Postal Service headquarters.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General; the Secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security; the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and the Postmaster General should document internal controls in agency policies and procedures to the maximum extent practical to help ensure that they are consistently understood and applied.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  14. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) agreed with the recommendation and in September 2003 and August 2004, the NIH Director provided a status report on the steps NIH was taking to implement this recommendation. NIH reported that standard operating procedures were developed to ensure that accurate descriptions of firearms are recorded in the database in a timely manner. NIH also reported that it had appointed and trained two property custodial officers for the NIH Police Branch in February 2003. NIH also provided confirmation from its Chief Administrative Officer that the accuracy of the inventory was distributed.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General; the Secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security; the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and the Postmaster General should document internal controls in agency policies and procedures to the maximum extent practical to help ensure that they are consistently understood and applied.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

 

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