GAO's Work at the FBI: Access to Data, Documents, and Personnel

GAO-01-888T Published: Jun 20, 2001. Publicly Released: Jun 20, 2001.
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GAO has issued about 50 products during the last five years that include information on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) operations and activities. When GAO initiates work with federal agencies, it formally notifies key officials about the planned review and meets with them to discuss objectives. In the course of its work, GAO routinely receives large amounts of information, some of it highly sensitive, and has an excellent record when it comes to safeguarding sensitive and classified information. This testimony discusses (1) GAO's statutory access authority to federal records and (2) access problems with the FBI. GAO has broad statutory right of access to agency records in order to conduct audits and evaluations. If agencies do not make information available in a reasonable time, GAO has the authority to demand access by sending the head of the agency a letter stating GAO's authority and its reasons for needing the information. The agency has 20 days to respond, after which the Comptroller General may file a report with the President, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the head of the agency, and Congress. If the agency still has not granted access within another 20 days, the Comptroller General can bring suit in federal district court unless (1) the records relate to activities the President has designated as foreign intelligence or counter-intelligence activities, (2) the records are specifically exempt from disclosure by statute, or (3) the President or the OMB Director certifies that the information being requested is covered by one of the two exemptions listed in the Freedom of Information Act and that disclosure reasonably could be expected to impair substantially the operations of the government. One of the greatest problems GAO has had in accessing FBI documents is delay in both receiving documents and meeting with officials. Other problems include poor documentation, few details from interviews with FBI officials, and complete denials of access.

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