Anti-terror battle tops Justice Department’s management challenges

Combating terrorism, improving the process of sharing information with other agencies and enforcing immigration laws are among the Justice Department's top management challenges, according to a new report from the department's inspector general. The top 10 management challenges that Justice faces also include improving computer security and financial systems and boosting performance-based management. But the department's response to terrorism is clearly the top priority around which all else revolves, according to the inspector general's report, which was issued in December but only recently made public. At the request of Congress, the IG has compiled a 'Top 10' list of management challenges each year since 1997. Justice's response to terrorism was also named as a major challenge in the IG's December 2000 report. The FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service have failed to adequately share information with one another, while the INS' program to deport illegal aliens has been "largely ineffective," according to the new report. Information-sharing among agencies and strict enforcement of immigration laws are both crucial in the war against terrorism, the IG said. The FBI and the INS maintain separate fingerprint identification systems that, if linked, could provide them and local law enforcement officials with immediate information on individuals wanted by either agency, the report noted. Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller have both pledged to improve information-sharing within the agency, with other agencies and with local law enforcement officials. The Patriot Act of 2001, signed into law by President Bush in October, permits more access to intelligence and law enforcement information for officials with a key role in combating terrorism. In addition, INS Commissioner James Ziglar is expected to announce an information-sharing initiative soon between his agency and the State Department, according to an INS official. The project, known as "Data Share," will give the INS access to certain State Department information on foreigners entering the country. The IG's report also criticized the INS for not tracking down or penalizing aliens who fail to appear before the agency when the law requires. "In many cases, we found that the INS did not initiate follow-up activity of any kind," the report said. "Our analysis revealed that among those who failed to appear, INS inspectors identified more than 50 percent as either having criminal records or immigration violations at the time of entry." As part of the effort to "chip away at some long-standing managerial problems," the agency has started entering data on 315,000 "absconders" into the National Crime Information Center, according to the INS official. The National Crime Information Center, a database maintained by the FBI, contains more than 40 million records on criminals, suspects and stolen property and is available to federal, state and local law enforcement personnel. "It is an important first step in trying to improve our ability to follow-up on individuals who have been eluding us all this time," the official said. For example, if someone renews a driver's license with the Department of Motor Vehicles and is listed in the the National Crime Information Center database, the person's name will appear during a routine check, alerting officials to the applicant's status with the INS. The IG's report also listed inadequate information technology systems and inefficient use of jail space as major management problems. The IG also urged the Justice Department to ensure that reorganization plans at the FBI and INS do not cause future management problems. The IG's office will closely follow the agency's progress on each of the ten management challenges during the year, the report said.
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