Letter from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) to Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.
Re: Lost computers at the U.S. Customs Service.
Date: August 8, 2002.
Source: Office of Sen. Grassley.
Official Portrait of Senator Grassley

August 8, 2002

The Honorable Paul H. O'Neill
United States Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20220

Re: Customs' Improper "Law Enforcement Sensitive" Designation

Dear Secretary O'Neill:

Last year, I requested that the U.S. Treasury Department (Treasury), Office of the Inspector General (Treasury-OIG), audit all Treasury offices and bureaus for inventory that, if lost or stolen, may compromise national security. The inventory included weapons, ammunition, computers, badges, credentials, and seized property. Yesterday, I received the Treasury-OIG's report, PROTECTING THE PUBLIC: U.S. Customs Control Over Sensitive Property Needs To Be Improved (OIG-02-109, August 5, 2002).

The information contained in this report is analogous to other Treasury-OIG "inventory" audits. See, PROTECTING THE PUBLIC: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' Control Over Sensitive Property Is Adequate (OIG-02-097, June 19, 2002); PROTECTING THE PUBLIC: U.S. Mint's Control Over Sensitive Property Needs To Be Improved (May 30, 2002, OIG-02-094); PROTECTING THE PUBLIC: Bureau of Engraving and Printing's Control Over Sensitive Property Needs To Be Improved (OIG-02-092, May 30, 2002); and PROTECTING THE PUBLIC: U.S. Secret Service's Control Over Selected Sensitive Property Is Adequate (OIG-02-095; June 6, 2002).

This information is also similar to data contained in an inventory audit that was released earlier this week by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General (DOJ-OIG), that I requested for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). See, The Federal Bureau Of Investigation's Control Over Weapons And Laptop Computers, Report No. 02-27, August 2002.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Customs Service (Customs) maintains that the Treasury-OIG report is "Law Enforcement Sensitive" and should not be disclosed to the public. Customs' position is simply untenable. I am very concerned that Customs' view is that because information is embarrassing to management that justifies that it be labeled Law Enforcement Sensitive. Management at Customs may be sensitive to a report that shows significant waste of taxpayer money but that does not justify seeking to suppress the information.

As background, the recent Treasury IG report on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) states that only 5 computers are lost or stolen and only 17 weapons were lost. Certainly a good record. The recently released DOJ-OIG report states that for the FBI there were 317 laptop computers reported missing during the review period - approximately 2 percent of the FBI's current inventory (Note: the DOJ-OIG report of FBI covered a time period that is a few months shorter than the time period covered by Treasury IG). No question that improvements can be made. In both cases this information was made publicly available and was not restricted.

By comparison, Customs makes the FBI look like a model of responsible management. The report on Customs states that the Customs Service - an agency whose responsibilities include tracking material - has managed to lose or have stolen a stunning 2,251 computers. This represents approximately 5 percent of total FY 2001 inventory. The situation is so bad at Customs that the IG stated: "We judged the risk of loss or theft of computers to be high." Even more troubling, the report stated that this number may be low because: " . . . [Customs] lacked reliable property records and physical inventories for computers there was no reasonable assurance that the information on Customs' computer inventory and losses was reliable." According to the IG, there is no evidence of a single employee at Customs being held financially responsible for the loss of these computers. In addition, 72 weapons were lost or stolen with one of the weapons used in gang-related drive-by shooting. I am at a loss as to how Customs can claim this information is law enforcement sensitive.

I believe that you would agree with my long-held position that transparency instills public confidence. The information contained in the Treasury-OIG's report is an essential part of a review that my Committee staff is undertaking into Treasury's inventory controls to prevent unauthorized access or use. The information gained will enable the Committee to make policy decisions designed to give Treasury the means to best safeguard its inventory, thereby minimizing security breaches. These decisions may affect the Committee's recommendations for appropriations to Customs and/or to your Department. I ask that you take steps to immediately provide that the entire report can be released, or at a minimum a redacted copy be provided for public release. In addition, I request that your office ensure that proper steps are being taken immediately to remedy the situation at Customs.

Thank you for your consideration of and attention to this matter. Please contact Mr. Dean Zerbe with any questions at 202-224-5315.


Charles E. Grassley
Ranking Member


CC: Via Regular Mail and Facsimile: (202) 927-2152

Judge Robert C. Bonner, Commissioner
Jimmy Gurule, Undersecretary for Law Enforcement
United States Customs Service
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20229