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Federal gun tracing center cited for efficiency

March 11, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

FALLING WATERS, W.Va. - A federal gun tracing office here has been cited for devising a computerized camera operation that saves taxpayers millions of dollars.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm's National Tracing Center traces the origin of firearms recovered in crimes and provides the information to federal agents and other police agencies.

To conduct searches, the National Training Center maintains microfilm records, but due to a backlog of information to be transferred to microfilm, workers had to sort through paper files, officials said.

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In 1992, the National Tracing Center had a backlog of 28 million documents that had yet to be transferred to microfilm, according to U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd's office.

The turnaround time for searching through the backlog of files and completing a gun trace request grew to 45 days, jeopardizing the mission of the office, Byrd said.

An independent contractor estimated that converting the records would have cost $50 million and taken 28 years. The National Tracing Center staff found a way to complete the work in three years at a cost of $9 million, said Joe Vince, chief of the Firearms Enforcement Division for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Vince said National Tracing Center staff were able to link the agency's microfilm cameras with a computer system that allowed them to record documents in a fraction of the time compared to the old method.

Employees had been recording about 10,000 documents a day, but can now process about 50,000 a day with the new system, Vince said.

"We took new technology and made it better," Vince said. "We saved the taxpayers a lot of money."

Byrd, D-W.Va., said the National Tracing Center has been selected to receive a Hammer Award, a recognition presented to federal offices that have made significant contributions toward streamlining government.

The National Tracing Center, located in the Spring Mills development, was moved from Washington, D.C., to Falling Waters in 1990.

With the conversion completed, National Tracing Center workers are starting to work with researchers from Harvard and other universities to determine better ways to track illegal activity, Vince said.

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