Incomplete data hindering criminal investigations of DoD uniformed employees

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With more than a million uniformed employees, the Defense Department occasionally has people who break the law. When that happens, the DoD’s law enforcement agencies are supposed to report information to the FBI. Incompleteness of this data has been a problem for years. The Defense inspector general has taken a new look. DoD OIG’s Director of Investigative Oversight Jeff Bennett joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin for more.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Mr. Bennet. Good to have you on.

Jeff Bennett: Thanks for having me on Tom.

Tom Temin: And this is something you have looked at periodically over the years., this reporting of data. Just give us the background on what data the DoD Is required under law, I guess, to report to the various databases that the FBI operates

Jeff Bennett: Well, the criminal history information that the DoD is required to report to the FBI includes any convictions for felony offenses and any convictions for misdemeanor domestic violence. So that would include things such as rape, homicide, larceny, any of the major felony criminal offenses.

Tom Temin: And this reporting is done by the Defense Department’s own law enforcement agencies, and I guess there’s quite a number of those, aren’t there?

Jeff Bennett: Right, there are a number of those. For the evaluations that we conduct, we evaluated the defense criminal investigative organizations and those are the investigative organizations that are charged with investigating felony crimes, and those specifically are the Army CID, the Navy NCIS, the Air Force OSI and the DoD OG’s Defense Criminal Investigative service.

Tom Temin: Got it. And how big is this requirement every year?

Jeff Bennett: Well, the requirement is that for any of the felony investigations that the defense criminal investigative organizations undertake, they’re required to submit at least fingerprints and final disposition reports to the FBI. And in many cases, they’re also required to submit DNA samples.

Tom Temin: Go it. So is this thousands of cases, tens of thousands, hundreds? Just give us a sense of the order of magnitude.

Jeff Bennett: I think it’s fair to say it’s probably thousands of cases per year that are investigated by the DCIOs.

Tom Temin: All right, what did you find? What are the principal findings? Are these organizations generally doing what they’re supposed to?

Jeff Bennett: Well, in our most recent evaluation, we did find that the defense criminal investigative organizations were collecting and submitting the criminal history information to the FBI. So again, that’s the fingerprints and final disposition reports, DNA samples and sexual offender registration information. So we did find that they were consistent now in submitting that criminal history data, which was the positive finding because in years past, dating back to 1997, we found that DCIOs were deficient in submitting this criminal history information. And in 1997 we undertook our first evaluation of fingerprint submission and in 2015 and 2017. We followed up on fingerprints, admission evaluations and in all three of those, we did find that they were reports to the FBI,

Tom Temin: And I imagine that could have serious implications on the outside, once the individuals involved leave the military service?

Jeff Bennett: It really does. If the DCIOs or the DoD law enforcement don’t submit the criminal history information to the FBI, it could potentially allow a person who has been convicted of a felony offense to pass a background investigation and purchase weapons. And that was the case, unfortunately, that was the case in 2017 when a former Air Force member who was convicted while in the service, was convicted of domestic violence and discharge from the Air Force. His criminal history information was not transmitted to the FBI, and it allowed him to pass a background investigation and subsequently by firearms, which, tragically, he used in a shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas in 2017. So those are the serious consequences of failure to submit criminal history information to the FBI.

Tom Temin: And I think maybe the more fundamental finding besides the fact that the data is generally flowing, is that just to quote your report, the leos, the defense law enforcement organizations implemented new policies, processes, training and management oversight. And this is something that seems to have led to this better result that you saw.

Jeff Bennett: Definitely, we believe so. Certainly the policies that we reviewed or I should say the revised polices that we reviewed, really clarified some of the older policies and were in far more detail and now direct the DoD law enforcement organizations, when and how to collect this criminal history information and then how and went to submit that information to the FBI. So it was good to see that they have taken this seriously and that they have taken steps to to improve their processes. We’ve also found that they improve their training both in their basic law enforcement training and in training once they get out to the field assignment. So there’s a lot of on the job training that takes place and then annual training that is occurring over a period of time. And finally, I think one of the best things that I saw that they have improved was in management oversight and the management oversight I’m talking about supervisors reviewing investigative case files to ensure that all this criminal history information was collected during the course of the investigation was, in fact, transmitted to the FBI. And that’s the critical piece, the involvement by the supervisors and by the higher headquarters to ensure that this information is flowing the way that it should.

Tom Temin: Sure. And did you find observing all of this, do the agencies on the DoD side have the necessary technological means they need to make sure the data gets their efficiently, the right transmission lines and websites and all of that plumbing?

Jeff Bennett: Yeah, and the plumbing and the hardware, which was I think that was the problem over a period of time was to get the hardware to transmit the fingerprints directly to the FBI electronically. So that took a little while to implement across DoD. And I think there are some locations that are still looking to purchase that and get it hooked up. But they’ve done a very good job in getting the electronic transmission of fingerprints data to the FBI.

Tom Temin: But nevertheless, you did have some recommendations for all of the armed services. Just briefly tell us what those were.

Jeff Bennett: Yeah, the recommendations that we found during this evaluation were geared at least in part, to the naval security forces, which to this point did not have sufficient training at their basic course for the collection and submission of fingerprints. And then they also we found they also didn’t have sufficient policies, processes, training and management oversight for the collection submission of DNA. So that was one of our major recommendations was for the Secretary of the Navy to improve those policies and processes We also found that there were 11 DNA samples that were not submitted to the FBI. Now I say 11 DNA samples. That’s out of almost 900 that were collected and submitted. So again, 0% is what we’re shooting for, but 11 samples that were not collected and submitted, that’s not too bad. So we recommended that the services go out and collect that DNA samples and transmitted to the FBI.

Tom Temin: And did they generally agree with your recommendations? Do you get a sense that yeah, we’re with you on this?

Jeff Bennett:Yes, they did, especially in this evaluation. Now they have agreed in the past, but certainly with this evaluation, they agreed with the recommendations. And probably just as important, they agreed with our findings in the evaluation as a whole, that they were, in fact, submitting that required criminal history information to the FBI.

Tom Temin: Sounds like in general then that this is a loose end that has been mostly tied up?

Jeff Bennett: Yeah, we believe so. Certainly based on our results and what we found during our evaluation, we think that certainly they have improved. And we think that in the future, when we go out to do additional or follow up evaluations of this type, I think we’re going to see similar results. Or at least I hope we’re going to see similar results. Certainly they have the things in place and policies in place to tell them that they’re required to collect this information and send it. So all of the infrastructure is there and all the policy requirements are there. So there should be no reason that we see any any kind of backslide when we go back out in the future to do these kinds of evaluations.

Tom Temin: And that shooting in Texas that’s you referred to earlier that took place in 2017 near the end of the year. That was a horrible mass shooting, 26 people dead as a result of that gunman and many more injured. Do you think that was a catalyst for maybe DoD tightening this whole thing up?

Jeff Bennett: I really think it was. I think I think that certainly caught their attention and forced them to look at not only what the current policies and processes are in the training and so on, But it also forced them to go back and look at all of the criminal investigations that they conducted over a long period of time. I believe going back to about 1998, to go through all of those investigative files to ensure that the prints and the criminal history information wasn’t fact submitted to the FBI and for those cases that it wasn’t, where they found that it wasn’t, they did a good job in submitting that information to the FBI.

Tom Temin: Jeff Bennett is Director of Investigative Oversight at the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General. Thanks so much for joining me.

Jeff Bennett: Thank you, Tom. I appreciate the time.