Year 2000 Computing Challenge:

Readiness of FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System Can Be Improved

AIMD/GGD-00-49: Published: Dec 16, 1999. Publicly Released: Dec 16, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) efforts to ensure that its National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is year 2000 compliant.

GAO noted that: (1) two of the most critical phases of the year 2000 readiness process are testing and contingency planning; (2) testing is essential to providing reasonable assurance that new or modified systems process dates correctly and will not jeopardize an organization's ability to perform core business operations after the millennium; (3) contingency planning is needed to mitigate the impact on core business operations of unexpected internal and uncontrollable external year 2000-induced system failures; (4) the FBI reported to the Office of Management and Budget in August 1999 that NICS was year 2000 compliant; (5) however, at that time, the FBI did not have a basis for determining system compliance because it had yet to complete system acceptance testing; (6) this testing verifies that an entire system, including application software, system software, and hardware, performs as intended and thus, is a prerequisite to determining system compliance; (7) however, the FBI has defined controls and processes that are consistent with GAO's year 2000 test guidance for effectively managing system acceptance tests; (8) the FBI does not plan to end-to-end test the entire set of interrelated FBI and state systems, including NICS, that are needed to conduct firearm presale background checks, citing a lack of time remaining before the century date change; (9) this conclusion is reasonable, however the FBI is not pursuing alternative, less time-demanding means to minimizing the risks associated with forgoing end-to-end tests with all of its business partners; (10) also, the FBI's draft NICS' year 2000 contingency plan is missing elements important to ensuring the continuity of instant background check operations; (11) the plan does not define the process for training contingency teams on workaround procedures; (12) further, FBI officials stated that they do not plan to test NICS' contingency plan; and (13) without taking these and other steps, the FBI is unnecessarily increasing the risk that it will not be able to perform instant background checks on prospective firearm buyers' eligibility in the year 2000.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To reduce the risk of year 2000 disruption to NICS and the FBI's ability to perform presale firearm background checks, the Attorney General should direct the Director, FBI, to pursue alternative means to minimizing the risks associated with not conducting end-to-end tests with all of NICS' business partners, such as assessing the year 2000 readiness of state partners and defining the boundaries of an end-to-end test event to include only internal FBI systems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To minimize the risks of not conducting end-to-end testing of NICS, the FBI assessed the Year 2000 readiness of its business partners and conducted interface testing with them for its National Crime Information Center 2000 (NCIC 2000). NCIC 2000 communications interface is the primary interface between state point-of-contacts and the NICS system.

    Recommendation: To reduce the risk of year 2000 disruption to NICS and the FBI's ability to perform presale firearm background checks, the Attorney General should direct the Director, FBI, to reflect in the NICS' year 2000 contingency plan the added risks associated with the FBI's decisions concerning alternatives to conducting end-to-end tests with all business partners.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: At the time that we issued the report, the FBI had committed to revising its NICS Year 2000 contingency plan by November 1999. However, the FBI did not respond to our follow-up requests for documentation supporting its stated intentions.

    Recommendation: To reduce the risk of year 2000 disruption to NICS and the FBI's ability to perform presale firearm background checks, the Attorney General should direct the Director, FBI, to develop and test the NICS' year 2000 contingency plan in accordance with GAO's and Department of Justice guidance, including specifying such important elements as precise trigger events and procedures for training contingency teams and monitoring system performance during the rollover period.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: At the time that we issued the report, the FBI had committed to revising its NICS Year 2000 contingency plan to include the limitations cited in the report. The FBI planned to revise its contingency plan by November 1999. However, the FBI did not respond to our follow-up requests for documentation supporting its intentions.

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