Watchdog Sees Progress After ‘Fast & Furious’

     WASHINGTON (CN) – While the Justice Department took significant remedial steps in the wake of the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal, more progress is needed, the Inspector General’s Office said Thursday.
     The Office of the Inspector General report released Thursday found the Justice Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has complied with four of the six main recommendations made in a separate September 2012 report looking into Operation Fast and Furious and the related Operation Wide Receiver.
     “Although we found that ATF has made significant progress to implement our recommendations, we identified some remaining issues with the department’s oversights of its other law enforcement components regarding issues we highlighted in our report,” the newly released report says.
     Operation Fast and Furious, in which agents allowed people with ties to drug cartels to buy firearms so law enforcement could track them once they reached Mexico, became a national scandal when one of the guns sold through the program was used to kill a law enforcement officer along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Office of the Inspector General also reviewed Operation Wide Receiver, a similar program, in its investigation of Fast and Furious and found similar issues.
     The scandal launched a congressional investigation that lead to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform suing the Justice Department to force it to release documents related to the program. A federal judge closed the lawsuit Monday after a 3 ½-year court battle.
     The first Inspector General report found “troubling” evidence that the Justice Department ignored red flags in wiretap applications related to Fast and Furious, that field officers mismanaged the operation on the ground and that ATF did not properly coordinate with other law enforcement agencies.
     To fix these shortcomings, the Inspector General recommended six changes to how law enforcement agencies conduct “sensitive” cases like Fast and Furious and how the different agencies interact to prevent mishandling such a program again.
     After finding the Justice Department had implemented four of these recommendations, the Inspector General chose to close them.
     The first of the closed recommendations was an instruction to have the Justice Department review ATF law enforcement operation policies to ensure they comply with the department’s larger policies. The original Inspector General report found ATF’s policies woefully out of date and out of line with modern department policy, according to the report.
     But after a Justice Department review, ATF changed its undercover operations policy among others and satisfied the Inspector General’s recommendation, according to the report.
     The Inspector General was also satisfied with changes to the ATF’s gun-trafficking investigation strategies, the Justice Department’s creation of a regular working group to better coordinate law enforcement departments and the department’s revision of its wiretap applications so officials would look beyond the applications’ cover memos to determine if a wiretap operation could go forward.
     “We believe that the department and ATF have made significant progress to implement the recommendations from our report on Operations Fast and Furious and Wide Receiver that apply to ATF and the Criminal Division,” the report says. “We are able to close four of the six recommendations.”
     But the Justice Department fell short on two other recommendations specifically related to the reports ATF uses to review cases, ATF’s policies regarding uncontrolled arms sales and the Drug Enforcement Agency’s use of confidential informants – especially those it regulates, like doctors and pharmacists.
     “However, we found that the law enforcement components other than ATF did not adequately assess the lessons of Operations Fast and Furious and Wide Receiver, and that the department did not give sufficient attention to the need for policies on uncontrolled firearms transfers,” the report says. “The department is working to address these concerns.”
     The Justice Department on Thursday promised to continue its efforts to satisfy the original Inspector General recommendations, while highlighting the steps it has already taken to comply.
     “The department has taken very seriously the misconduct uncovered in Operations Fast and Furious and Wide Receiver, and we’re pleased the Inspector General has recognized the significant changes we have made in both our law enforcement and litigating components to address public safety risks that may arise during law enforcement investigations and operations,” Justice Department spokeswoman Emily Pierce said in a statement.
     “Indeed, the risk assessment working group, established by Attorney General Eric Holder in 2012, worked for over a year to evaluate and recommend enhancements to the department’s procedures for assessing such risks,” Pierce continued. “In 2013, the risk assessment working group issued department-wide guidelines and required the law enforcement components to update their policies. The department continues to work with the Inspector General to ensure that the department’s policies regarding risk assessment are consistent and thorough.”
     House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, praised the report Thursday but hit the Justice Department for not taking action to complete all of the Inspector General’s recommendations.
     “DOJ has much more work to do, particularly improving coordination with other law enforcement entities,” Chaffetz said in a statement. “The lack of progress demonstrated in the report raises questions as to how motivated DOJ is in implementing these important recommendations. DOJ leadership must prioritize the Inspector General’s findings. I appreciate the efforts of the Inspector General in working to resolve these outstanding issues.”

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