The U.S. Marshals Service can’t account for approximately 2,000 encrypted two-ways radios worth millions of taxpayer dollars, a problem that apparently dates back to 2011, according to a new report by the Wall Street Journal.
The agency runs is responsible for the Witness Security Program and guarding judges and federal courthouses. The missing radios pose an obvious security risk to agents, federal judges, and witnesses.
Agency officials were made aware of the problem as early as 2011, the report notes, when the agency was testing out new radios it planned to use in the field.
The cost of the lost radios is roughly $6 million (the radios range from approximately $2,000 to $5,000). The number of missing radios varies, but one account puts the number at around 2,000 while another puts it at around 4,000.
“Agency leaders continued to have difficulty tracking their equipment even after they were warned about the problems by an internal technology office,” the Journal adds, citing documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Marshals familiar with the problem told the Journal that along with wasting taxpayer dollars, the missing radios could be used to spy on law enforcement operations.
The agency believes “this issue is in large part attributable to poor record keeping as a result of an older property-management system, as opposed to equipment being lost,” said USMS spokesman Drew Wade.
“It is apparent that negligence and incompetence has resulted in a grievous mismanagement of millions of dollars of USMS property,” according to a 2011 presentation by the agency’s Office of Strategic Technology.
“Simply put, the entire system is broken and drastic measures need to be taken to address the issues…The 800 pound elephant in the room needs to finally be acknowledged.”
Officials suspect negligence is partly responsible for the missing radios, but they also suspect agents lied about the matter to avoid dealing with paperwork.
“Reporting a radio as lost requires more paperwork and raises the prospect of an internal investigation,” the Journal notes.
“Internal emails show some within the agency believed that the problems with the unaccounted-for radios were simply a matter of bad paperwork. Others said the inventory effort was a maddening exercise that would never answer all questions about where the equipment was,” it adds.
In a series of handwritten notes obtained by the Journal through a FOIA request, agency officials were not looking forward to the inevitable bad press the missing radios would bring on the agency.
One senior official, according to the notes, said he is “not going to take the fall in the media for missing radios.” The author of the handwritten note replies: “I am not taking the ‘fall’ for the agencies [sic] inability to take corrective action and ensure accountability for millions of dollars in missing radios.”
But although more than 1,600 then-missing radios “cannot be accounted for today,” an agency official wrote in an email to Marshals executive William Snelson on July 13, 2012, “I wholeheartedly believe that many of these items can be located, or will eventually be found.”
So, hey, at least there’s that.
Click here to read the full Wall Street Journal report.
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter
Featured image Getty Images.