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GAO: Incentives for states to enter records into NICS may be toothless

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State data is too unreliable for the Justice Department to reward or penalize states over how many records they've entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the Government Accountability Office says.

The NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, enacted in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting, designed incentives for states to share more records in NICS--which is voluntary. But those incentives depend on knowing the total number of records a state has that are eligible for the system.

States face many obstacles to estimating that total, GAO says in its report, dated July 16. Some records are inaccessible because they're lost, in a legacy system or on paper. Some have been deleted, and some must stay private under state law.

Officials at DOJ's Bureau of Justice Statistics told GAO that state records, as currently collected, may never be precise enough for DOJ to administer the rewards and penalties enacted in 2007.

Under the NIAA, DOJ can give a state financial rewards if it provides at least 90 percent of its relevant records. DOJ can also withhold certain grant money if a state provides less than 50 percent of those records.

But assuming DOJ does figure out a way to estimate the number of records states have, it's unclear whether the incentives will even work.

Some state officials interviewed by GAO said the incentives would motivate them, but others said they were a moderate incentive or none at all. Still others were unaware that the rewards and penalties existed.

Officials from one state added that initially, the potential impact of one of the incentives encouraged them to share more records, but it has since "become less of a motivator since DOJ has not yet administered" it, GAO reports.

Meanwhile, BJS officials told GAO they believe the NIAA reward and penalty provisions have provided "little to some incentive."

For more:
- download the report, GAO-12-684 (.pdf)

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