June 20, 2001

Today, the Judiciary Committee begins oversight hearings on the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Oversight of the Department of Justice, of which the FBI is a part, is among this Committee’s most important responsibilities. There has never been a greater need for constructive oversight of the FBI. The FBI has long been considered the crown jewel of law enforcement agencies. Today, it has lost some of its earlier luster. Unfortunately, the image of the FBI in the minds of too many Americans is that this agency has become unmanageable, unaccountable and unreliable. Its much vaunted independence has transformed, for some, into an image of insular arrogance.

We now have an historic window of opportunity to examine the present state of the FBI and help guide constructive reforms to make the Bureau more effective, better managed, more accountable. The current FBI director has announced his resignation. No successor has not yet been named. This is a particularly appropriate time for us to take stock and think about how we should plan for the FBI of the 21st century. I would hope that these hearings will help the Members of this Committee prepare for the new Director’s confirmation hearings as well as apprise the nominee of the challenges that confront us all.

We had invited Director Freeh here today to thank him for his public service and to hear from him what his advice would be to his successor. I thought that it would be appropriate to begin these hearings by acknowledging all the positive contributions that he has made during the last eight years. I also wanted to get his assessment of the problems that remain. He explained to me when we spoke last week that he was unavailable.

In recent years we have seen case after case where the FBI has fallen short – and sometimes far short – of the high standards of professionalism and integrity that we expect of our nation’s premier law enforcement agency:

This list of failures and mistakes has seriously weakened public confidence in the FBI. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 38 percent of Americans have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the FBI, and 23 percent of those polled had very little or no confidence in the FBI. Confidence in state and local police is substantially higher, with about 60 percent of Americans having "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in these other law enforcement forces. This erosion of public trust threatens the FBI’s ability to perform its mission. Citizens who mistrust the FBI will be less likely to come forward and report information about criminal activity. Judges and jurors will be less likely to believe the testimony of FBI witnesses. Even innocent or minor mistakes by the FBI in future cases may be perceived in a sinister light that is not warranted. Since FBI agents perform forensic and other critical work for many law enforcement agencies on the federal, state and local levels, the repercussions of this lapse in public confidence in the FBI has rippled far beyond just federal criminal cases.

To many of us in Congress, this is a particularly troubling situation. For years, we have almost never said no when the FBI has asked us for new resources. We have allocated to the FBI millions of dollars in increased funding, because we all wanted to see it remain the world’s leading crime-fighting agency. It should be obvious now that simply throwing more money at the FBI is not the answer. The time has come when this Committee must exercise its oversight responsibilities and take a hard, thorough and nonpartisan look at the FBI to determine what has gone wrong and what can be done to fix things.

But as we go about this process, there are several things that we need to bear in mind.

First, our purpose in holding these hearings is to find ways to restore confidence in the FBI, not to tear it down. There are many irresponsible critics of the FBI who promote their conspiracy theories on Internet Web sites and in the popular media. Fortunately, the great majority of the American people have too much common sense than to believe them. The FBI is a vital national asset, and we need it to function effectively.

Second, we must not overlook the fact that the FBI is staffed by many brave, dedicated men and women who risk their lives protecting the interests of this country and the safety of its citizens. While we are constantly reminded of the cases where things have gone wrong, we often forget the far greater number of cases where the FBI does its job quietly, professionally and without public fanfare. Any constructive criticism of the FBI as an institution is not meant in any way to disparage its agents’ sacrifices on our country’s behalf.

Finally, our efforts must be, and I am confident will be, bipartisan. Over the past several weeks, senators on both sides of the aisle have expressed their concern about the present state of the FBI and discussed various legislative proposals to address the problems they have identified. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. The future security of our country is far too important.

The question at the center of our first hearing is this: Who polices the FBI? Our focus is the mechanisms that currently exist for overseeing the activities of the FBI, and we intend to identify any gaps and problems that currently exist in FBI oversight, determine the status of oversight investigations that are currently underway and begin to formulate ways that oversight can be improved. We are extremely fortunate to have with us an outstanding panel of distinguished witnesses who have familiarity and expertise with different aspects of the oversight process. I look forward to hearing from them about how this process works now and how we can make it work better to ensure that mistakes are acknowledged, constructive recommendations for reform are adopted, and intentional misconduct is adequately punished. Our goal is to restore the luster, the effectiveness and the professionalism of the crown jewel of law enforcement agencies.

# # # # #