GAO unable to get counterterrorism stats from FBI as Leahy, Grassley ask

As the acting chief of the investigative arm of Congress readies for his confirmation hearing on Thursday, the FBI has brought a key study of the GAO to a standstill despite repeated pleas from senior lawmakers and officials.

Gene Dodaro, the acting comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), has unsuccessfully been trying to get information from the FBI on the personnel vacancy rate in its counterterrorism division for nearly one year, at the behest of Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

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In a rare move, Dodaro met last month with FBI Director Robert Mueller, who has served as the FBI’s head since he was nominated by former President George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate in 2001. But Mueller still says that the information the GAO is requesting falls under intelligence oversight and can only be made available to the House and Senate intelligence panels.

The unresolved issue, which lawmakers say is vital to being able to strengthen the FBI’s counterterrorism work, is likely to come up on Thursday, when Dodaro is scheduled to appear before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for his confirmation hearing.

On Wednesday evening, Dodaro told The Hill that he remains optimistic that the GAO and the FBI can come to a resolution, which will lead to the study’s completion. He pointed to a similar study the GAO had completed in 2004, in which it was freely given personnel data sets from the FBI.

"We are still treating this as an open engagement and hope that we can get the access we need to complete our work,” said Dodaro in a statement. “I am hopeful we can reach some resolution on this engagement since this involves the FBI's basic human capital and management functions, but we're not there yet.”

The Hill first wrote about numerous agencies, including the Department of Justice and the FBI, not cooperating with the GAO exactly one year ago. This past June, tempers on both sides of the aisle flared as lawmakers continued to receive complaints about the lack of information that the GAO was able to access from the agencies.

After several pleas to senior lawmakers, Dodaro says that the GAO has been able to “develop a pilot program [with the DoJ] designed to improve GAO's access generally, and is also actively working with the FBI to strengthen access across the board, not just in this instance [of counterterrorism personnel vacancies.]”

Under the pilot program, the GAO can largely expect to receive documents it has requested within 20 days, with any necessary meetings arranged within 10 days, according to an official close to the agency discussions. But the issue of trying to obtain information on the FBI's personnel vacancies in its counterterrorism division remains outside of this pilot exercise.

It remains unclear what effect a Republican majority in the lower chamber will have on resolving the study. Charlotte Sellmyer, a spokeswoman for the House Judiciary Committee’s Republicans, declined to comment on how the panel would address the issue once the GOP takes over the committee in January — a move that will double its staff and budget.

Dodaro has worked in various positions with the GAO for more than 30 years, including heading up the agency’s largest unit — the accounting and information management division — and is not expected to receive any significant opposition to his confirmation.