For at least 20 years, the military services have been failing at an alarming rate to turn over fingerprints and court-martial records to the FBI to stop felons from buying guns, the office of the Pentagon's Inspector General said in a report Tuesday.
"We determined that the military services still did not consistently submit fingerprint cards and final disposition reports" from courts-martial to the FBI as required by law, the IG's office said in the report, which covered submissions from Jan. 1, 2015, to Dec. 31, 2016.
"Overall, of the 2,502 fingerprint cards required to be submitted, 601 [24 percent] were not submitted," the report said. "Of the 2,502 final disposition reports required to be submitted, 780 [31 percent] were not submitted."
During the period covered, the Army had 262 missing fingerprint cards (28 percent) and 385 missing final disposition reports (41 percent), the IG's office said.
The Navy was missing 197 fingerprint cards (29 percent) and 243 final disposition reports (36 percent); the Marine Corps, 37 fingerprint cards (29 percent) and 46 final disposition reports (36 percent); and the Air Force, 105 fingerprint cards (14 percent) and 106 final disposition reports (14 percent).
In its conclusions, the IG's report noted the high failure rate of reporting to the FBI had been found in similar evaluations conducted in 1997 and in 2015.
In the 1997 and 2015 reports, the IG's office "found a significant number of missing fingerprint cards and final disposition reports throughout the DoD" that were required to be sent to the FBI.
The 78-page report said failure to make the required submissions to the FBI "can allow someone to purchase a weapon" who should not have one, and could "potentially impact law enforcement and national security interests."
The IG's report took on significance in the aftermath of the massacre of 25 people, including a pregnant woman, Nov. 5 at Sunday services of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. It was the worst mass murder in the history of the state.
Police said the killer was former Airman Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, who was either fatally wounded by pursuers or killed himself after a car chase from the scene. Kelley had been convicted at a court-martial in 2012 of assaulting his then-wife and fracturing the skull of his stepchild.
Kelley was sentenced to be confined for 12 months and reduced in rank to E-1, or basic airman. He also received a bad conduct discharge.
However, he was still able to buy firearms used in the massacre because the Air Force failed to enter his fingerprints and the court-martial findings into the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
In a statement the day after the Texas shootings, the Air Force said, "Initial information indicates that Devin Kelley's domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database."
"The service will also conduct a comprehensive review of Air Force databases to ensure records in other cases have been reported correctly," the statement said. "The Air Force has also requested that the Department of Defense Inspector General review records and procedures across the Department of Defense."
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis joined in the Air Force's request.
"I am requesting that DoD's Office of Inspector General investigate whether appropriate information regarding Devin Patrick Kelley should have been transmitted" to the FBI, he said in a statement.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions later said, "The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is critical for us to be able to keep guns out of the hands of those that are prohibited from owning them.
"The recent shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, revealed that relevant information may not be getting reported to the NICS -- this is alarming and it is unacceptable," he said.
The IG's report released Tuesday is separate from the ongoing investigation by the IG's office into what happened in the case of Devin Kelley.
In a statement accompanying the IG's report released Tuesday, Glenn Fine, principal deputy Inspector General, said, "Our report again identified serious deficiencies throughout the DoD in reporting criminal history information to the FBI.
"It is critical that the DoD fully implement our recommendations to correct past deficiencies and prevent future lapses in reporting," he said.
The recommendations include a requirement that the secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force ensure that all fingerprint cards and final disposition reports be promptly submitted to the FBI.
In addition, the report recommended that service secretaries, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, and the deputy chief management officer "immediately perform a comprehensive review of their criminal investigative databases."
The review should cover "all required fingerprint cards and final disposition reports for qualifying offenses" going back to 1998 to make sure the DoD is complying with the law, the report said.
The IG's report covered compliance for submissions to the FBI by all Military Services Law Enforcement Organizations (LEOs).
The LEOs are the Army Criminal Investigation Command, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Army Military Police, Navy Security Forces, Air Force Security Forces, and Marine Corps Military Police and Criminal Investigative Division.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.