updated 2/27/2004 2:40:04 PM ET 2004-02-27T19:40:04

The FBI’s process for disciplining employees has become a “lightning rod” for criticism because of perceptions of favoritism and unfairness, according to an independent review released Friday.

The study of the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility found the perception of a double standard in discipline that favors managers over rank-and-file employees, although there were no findings of a systemic disparity.

The perception of unfairness, the study said, “has had an enormous adverse impact on morale and confidence” in the FBI discipline system.

Some of the factors contributing to this unfairness are a “vague, incomplete and deeply flawed” system of punishment guidelines; a blurring of the policy of firing anyone for lying, cheating or stealing; and the greater likelihood that senior FBI managers will resign when under investigation rather than be terminated.

OPR, the study found, “has become an unfortunate lightning rod both outside and within the bureau” that undermines the FBI’s ability to combat terrorists and criminals.

The study was done by former Attorney General Griffin Bell and Lee Cowell, a former high-ranking FBI official. In all, it made 32 recommendations for improving OPR, most of which current FBI Director Robert Mueller said he intended to implement.

Mueller said he will assign a senior FBI official to “oversee the implementation of each major recommendation to ensure that we make swift progress towards implementing the improvements suggested by the study.”

The review also recommends improved deadlines for deciding cases, splitting the investigative division from the adjudication division and clarifying the standard for how cases are reviewed upon appeal.

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