ASHINGTON, May 11 — Independent auditors at several
federal agencies have issued new reports in recent weeks
criticizing the agencies for moving too slowly to confront the
risks of terrorist attacks.
The security audits, prepared by internal government
watchdogs known as inspectors general, report that even after
the terror attacks of Sept. 11, some government departments
did not act quickly to control hazardous materials, to secure
buildings and aircraft, to clamp down on unlawful immigrants,
to protect vital computers and communications links from
attack or to take other high-priority measures.
The reports were issued across the spectrum of federal
agencies, and more are being published each week as the
auditors continue to increase their scrutiny of measures
Their conclusions demonstrate the magnitude of the
government's task in preventing new terrorist attacks, even as
Congress approves billions of dollars to be spent on
protecting so many federal facilities against such an array of
possible acts of terrorism.
One example of a slow response came at the Department of
Agriculture, where the inspector general's office reported
that many of the agency's 336 laboratories were unable to
account for dangerous biological agents that are listed in
their stockpiles, including three billion doses of a dangerous
On Sept. 24, in a sign of the problem's urgency, the
inspector general, whose auditors had inspected only a few
laboratories so far, issued a "management alert" recommending
that the agency strengthen controls over its inventories. The
next month, the department reported to the White House Office
of Homeland Security that the laboratories and their contents
had been secured.
But the auditors, after visiting an additional 114
laboratories at 87 sites, questioned that claim, saying that
the department still did not have an accurate picture of its
stockpiles. In January they issued another alert, saying that
the situation had "not significantly changed."
In their final report, they said that despite recent
progress, the department must still do more to control
inventories of dangerous substances.
In another example, the Energy Department's inspector
general reported last month that the department could not
fully account for radioactive fuel rods and other nuclear
material that the government lent to several countries
beginning in the 1960's as part of the Atoms for Peace
program, including Iran and others no longer under the sway of
the United States.
Gaps in the system for tracking the material, including
small amounts of plutonium, have been known for years. But the
auditors noted that there were new concerns that radioactive
material could be used to make the crude nuclear-laced
explosives known as dirty bombs.
Some at the Energy Department quarreled with the new
report. While the department's Office of Security agreed to
try to locate the materials, the department's National Nuclear
Security Administration disagreed, saying international
agreements governing the materials contained no requirement
for the United States to track them.
Shortly after the suicide hijackings on Sept. 11, auditors
looking into aviation security discovered that dozens of
Forest Service tanker planes used to drop flame-retardant
chemicals on forest fires were open to theft because they were
often left unattended at remote airfields "and could be
attractive to terrorists wishing to disperse biological or
Even though law enforcement agencies were grounding
crop-dusting planes at the time, the auditors said, the Forest
Service decided that the risk of its tanker plane being stolen
by terrorists or other criminals was not even worth examining
closely. After the audit sharply criticized the agency, it
agreed to correct the problems, saying it might take a year to
A report issued on Friday by the Transportation
Department's inspector general found that neither federal nor
state precautions were adequate "to defend against the
alarming threat posed by individuals who seek to fraudulently
obtain commercial driver's licenses."
Since Sept. 11, the authorities have been cracking down on
this kind of fraud in an attempt to prevent truck bombings.
The auditors found one state that had failed to enter into
national databases 20,000 new licenses over 20 months,
although federal standards require them to be reported within
10 days. The report said the federal agency was increasing its
supervision over the states, but that more needed to be
Auditors at the department also started two reviews of
airport security in April. One review will determine if the
additional screeners put to work since September had received
adequate training and were properly inspecting passengers and
baggage, and the other will assess recent progress in
installing advanced technology for detecting explosives in
checked baggage. Under a new law, the department faces a
year-end deadline to improve passenger screening and baggage
Kenneth M. Mead, the inspector general, warned Congress on
April 17 that the department's security agency was running out
of money, that its costs were increasing rapidly and that its
spending plans were in flux, making it unlikely that it can
meet those deadlines.
Meanwhile, Mr. Mead said, the agency appeared to be wasting
money, for example by spending $2,500 for the security check
on each of its tens of thousands of newly hired screeners, and
even paying bills without knowing whether they were submitted
by bona fide security contractors.
The agency estimated that its contracts with screening
companies may cost $1.6 billion by the end of the year, but
"controls over these contracts appear to be woefully lacking,"
Mr. Mead said. The number of contractors has ballooned to 71
from 50 in recent months and is still growing, he said.
"According to the contracting office, they receive bills
from many companies that have no contracts, and we were told
that no one knows the exact number of companies actually
providing services," Mr. Mead said. "We were also told bills
are being paid as they come in and that no one verifies that
the amounts being charged are actual costs."