A lack of accountability and a culture of arrogance among some of the FBI's senior executives are largely responsible for management problems at the agency, witnesses said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday. Perceptions among rank-and-file employees that senior managers have abused their authority and are not held accountable for their actions persist, according to witnesses from inside and outside the FBI. "Of concern to me is the apparent deference paid to [Senior Executive Service] personnel who are found to have violated FBI policy, rules and regulations," said John E. Roberts, unit chief in the Office of Professional Responsibility at the FBI. "Although it is not unlikely that non-SES FBI employees know the results of SES internal investigations and the discipline these executives receive, it is the perception that there is a double standard of punishment in the FBI." Despite efforts by former FBI Director Louis Freeh to address discipline and accountability within the agency's Senior Executive Service, the sense among the workforce that certain senior managers operate as rogue agents is prevalent, according to Roberts and John Werner, a general contractor and former FBI official who spent nearly three decades at the agency. Werner said that although most SESers are sincere and dedicated law enforcement officials, a "vocal minority" motivated by self-interest has contributed to the FBI's management problems and tarnished the agency's reputation. "Hiding behind a wall of arrogance, senior managers hold the belief that they always know what is best for the bureau," he said. "These SES members are intolerant of any suggestion that their way is wrong." Wednesday's hearing came a day after Justice Department and FBI officials revealed that more than 400 weapons and 180 laptops-including some with sensitive and classified information-are missing from the agency. The latest snafu comes two months after the FBI failed to turn over all documents to lawyers for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, a controversy that resulted in a temporary postponement of McVeigh's execution. Participants agreed that greater oversight of the FBI-whether through peer review, independent review or review by the Justice Department-is necessary to identify and tackle the agency's problems. Raymond Kelly, former Customs Service commissioner, said that tight control, close supervision and a rigorous chain of command and oversight were essential to any law enforcement agency, particularly the FBI. Patrick J. Kiernan, a supervisory special agent in the law enforcement ethics unit, suggested the agency appoint an ethics czar who would make sure the agency maintained its integrity throughout every investigation. Last week, Attorney General John Ashcroft gave the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General primary jurisdictionover any allegations of misconduct against FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency employees. Other lawmakers, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., have called for the creation of a deputy inspector general for FBI oversight within the Justice Department. The prevalent mood at the hearing was melancholy, not outrage. Lawmakers expressed frustration and sadness at the inability of a law enforcement agency to get a handle on its internal problems.
"Unfortunately, the things the FBI does best are the least talked about," said Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who, along with several other committee members, praised the majority of the FBI workforce for its dedication to public service.
Want to contribute to this story? Share your addition in comments.