Delays in Obtaining State Department Records Relating to Colombia
T-NSIAD-97-202, Jul 9, 1997
GAO discussed the problems that it has encountered in conducting its review of counternarcotics activities in Colombia, focusing on the Department of State's delay in providing timely and complete access to information that GAO requested.
GAO noted that: (1) GAO's basic authority to access records is contained in 31 U.S.C. 716; (2) this statute gives GAO a very broad right of access to agency records for the purpose of conducting audits and evaluations; (3) generally, GAO does not encounter problems in accessing agency records in the course of most of its work; (4) in fact, during the past 2 years, GAO has conducted a number of counternarcotics-related reviews in Colombia, Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, and the Caribbean; (5) in every case, the State Department and embassy officials were cooperative in providing GAO with timely and independent access to information; (6) in none of these past assignments did the State Department attempt to control GAO's independent access to information; (7) for example, in a 1995 review of the Colombia counternarcotics program, GAO's team had independent and unrestricted access to program files of State's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL); (8) GAO was allowed to review files and obtain immediate access to any document it requested; (9) furthermore, during GAO's 1995 visit to Bogota, embassy officials provided similar access to their State Department files, enabling GAO to develop conclusions based on all readily available information; (10) GAO was allowed to transmit all classified documents directly to its agency, in accordance with its established security procedures; (11) in contrast, throughout this review, the State Department has delayed GAO and imposed undue restrictions on its access to documents; (12) the Department has established an elaborate process for considering GAO's document requests by "screening" documents through multiple, time-consuming reviews before they are released to GAO; (13) the State Department has insisted that GAO review, under restrictive conditions, many of the documents that have been released to GAO; (14) in some cases, the Department has deleted some information from these documents; and (15) after several unsuccessful attempts to resolve these problems, GAO formally notified the Department on June 25, 1997, that its work was being obstructed by delays in obtaining information.