The Pentagon's watchdog agency said Tuesday it found a "troubling" number of failures this year by military law enforcement agencies to alert the FBI to criminal history information. The Army, Navy and Marine Corps were found almost equally at fault, while the Air Force did notably better in the review.
The Pentagon's inspector general happened to be wrapping up a monthslong review of compliance with reporting requirements when former Air Force member Devin P. Kelley opened fire in a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church on Nov. 5, killing 25 people, including a pregnant woman.
Kelley had been convicted of assaulting family members in a 2012 court martial at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, but the information was not passed on to the FBI as required by Pentagon regulations. The lapse, acknowledged by the Air Force, meant he was not flagged in databases used for background checks of gun buyers.
Tuesday's report said that from February through October, the military's law enforcement organizations failed to submit 24 percent of required fingerprint cards for inclusion in FBI databases and 31 percent of required reports of court martial convictions, known as final disposition reports. The data is supposed to be submitted to the FBI for many offenses, including assault, murder and desertion.
The Army's failure rate on fingerprint reporting was 28 percent, the Navy's and Marine Corps' both were 29 percent. The Air Force's was 14 percent. The Army failed to submit final disposition reports in 41 percent of cases; the Navy and the Marine Corps in 36 percent of cases, and the Air Force in 14 percent of cases.
"Any missing fingerprint card and final disposition report can have serious, even tragic, consequences, as may have occurred in the recent church shooting in Texas," the report said. It added that these omissions not only result in faulty screening of gun buyers but also hinder criminal investigations "and potentially impact" law enforcement and national security.
"It is therefore troubling that many fingerprint cards remained missing," this year, it said.
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The inspector general study did not determine why the military services have failed to meet their reporting requirements. In the aftermath of the Kelley case, the inspector general has undertaken a new study aimed in part at finding the underlying reasons for what Tuesday's report called "the enduring deficiencies" in alerting the FBI to criminal history data.
The Associated Press reported last month that the military has known for two decades about failures to provide criminal history information to the FBI.
In February 2015, the Pentagon inspector general reported that hundreds of convicted offenders' fingerprints were not submitted to the FBI's criminal history database. The report found about a 30 percent failure rate for submitting fingerprints and criminal case outcomes. It did not determine the reasons for the lapses.
A February 1997 inspector general report found even more widespread lapses. Fingerprint cards were not submitted to the FBI in more than 80 percent of cases in the Army and Navy, and 38 percent in the Air Force. Failure to report the outcome of criminal cases was 79 percent in the Army and 50 percent in the Air Force, the report said. In the Navy, it was 94 percent.
The 1997 report cited several reasons for the lapses, including ambiguous Pentagon guidelines and a lack of interest among the military services in submitting information to an FBI viewed as chronically overburdened with data.
"In their view, little benefit in solving cases is achieved by providing timely information," the report said.