The Washington Post

Marshals Service failed to follow procedure on weapons, other purchases, Justice says

The Justice Department’s inspector general recently released an audit saying the U.S. Marshals Service deviated from procurement guidelines in more than 100 instances, including one in which a chief inspector bought two fully automatic rifles for his division without proper approval.

Marshals Service policy strictly prohibits the use of fully automatic weapons by agency offices, with the exception of authorized missions of the Special Operations Group.

A chief inspector working for one of the agency’s witness-security offices ordered the high-powered weapons by modifying a previously authorized request for two semiautomatic firearms, according to the audit, which was released Dec. 19. The inspector general’s office found no documentation of approval for the change, the report said.

The chief inspector requested the modification by e-mailing a contracting officer who was handling the purchase, according to the report. A sales representative warned that the order could violate agency policy, but the contracting officer confirmed the request, the audit said.

Marshals Service spokesman Drew Wade said on Friday that the high-powered rifles were bought for official purposes only.

“The two weapons were never used outside of acceptable policy, or for personal use [including resale],” Wade said.

Asked why the high-powered weapons were needed, Wade said the agency does not discuss the reasons for specific weapons requests. “The purchase of the two weapons was fully legal, but contrary to [the agency’s] standard practices and internal policy,” he said.

The Marshals Service told the inspector general’s office that it removed the trigger mechanisms that allow the rifles to fire on automatic. The agency provided photos and communications to show that it had taken the action.

The inspector general’s office responded that it could not verify the trigger conversion until the agency provides a work order for the procedure and shows it has properly disposed of the prohibited parts.

The inspector general’s office reviewed the Marshals Service from October 2009 through March 2011, during which time the agency’s procurements totaled about $1.4 billion.

According to the audit, the agency failed to document receipt of 31 percent of the items it purchased and failed to obtain advance approval for 20 percent of its transactions.

Violations reached an especially high number at the Marshals Service’s northern Georgia district office, where 38 percent of transactions lacked proper approval. By comparison, only 7 percent of purchases by the agency’s Witness Security Division were made without meeting guidelines.

The audit also indicated that the agency had failed to follow federal guidelines for full and open competition for 71 percent of its qualifying acquisitions, including all firearm and lodging transactions.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.


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