WASHINGTON - The Justice Department is unprepared to ensure public safety during an attack involving weapons of mass destruction, the agency's inspector general warned Tuesday.
In the event of an attack by nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, the Justice Department is supposed to coordinate federal law enforcement activities and take over if the incident overwhelms state and local police, the report says.
"We are totally unprepared," an unnamed Justice Department official was quoted as saying in the report by the inspector general, the agency's internal watchdog.
The report praises the FBI for meeting planning requirements but says the department as a whole and its other component law enforcement agencies have not. That includes the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is supposed to take the lead on public safety after an attack.
Justice Department officials agreed that "the fundamental conclusion of the report is sound" and promised action.
The report represents the latest in a series of assessments criticizing the government for inadequate planning for WMD attacks.
In January, a bipartisan commission gave the Obama administration and Congress a grade of F on preparedness for a biological attack. The administration responded with a series of measures to speed up delivery of drugs in the event of an incident.
In 2008, another panel found deficiencies "in all three pillars of the national strategy to combat WMD: prevention; protection, and response." The panel said strategies dating back to 2002 had not been fully implemented.
"There is a sense of complacency that has settled in nearly a decade after Sept. 11," said Paul McHale, a former Democratic lawmaker from Pennsylvania who served as an assistant secretary of defense under President George W. Bush.
Tuesday's report concluded that no single person at the Justice Department had responsibility for oversight of WMD incident response and that the department had not updated its policies to reflect recent national policies for responding to a WMD incident.