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Homeland Security criticized for losing weapons

WASHINGTON - Agents and officers of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported that 289 of their handguns, shotguns or automatic rifles had been lost or stolen between 2005 and 2008, with weapons left in places ranging from fast-food restaurant restrooms to bowling alleys to clothing stores, the agency's inspector general said in a report released yesterday.

Most of the losses could have been prevented, DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner reported.

In one case, his office stated, a border officer left a weapon in his idling vehicle at a convenience store. Both the weapon and the vehicle were stolen. In another case, a shotgun and semiautomatic rifle were stolen from an officer's closet at home.

Other agents left firearms in truck beds or on vehicle bumpers, where weapons fell off as they drove away.

"The Department of Homeland Security, through its components, did not adequately safeguard and control its firearms," Skinner concluded in a 23-page report dated Jan. 25.

"Although some reported losses were beyond the officers' control, most losses occurred because officers did not properly secure firearms," the inspector general concluded. While the report was embarrassing for DHS, other unidentified federal law enforcement agencies fared worse.

Skinner said the Justice Department and the Government Accountability Office, Congress' audit arm, found similar problems among 18 agencies assessed between 2003 and 2007.

Elaine Duke, then-DHS undersecretary for management, committed in a Dec. 11 letter to Skinner's assistant to stronger oversight and departmentwide policies.

She said a DHS management plan and policy were expected within months.

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