FBI should be held to higher standards for test-taking

Credit: Patrick Gage Kelley/Contributing Editor Credit: Patrick Gage Kelley/Contributing Editor

The basic tenets of test-taking are pummeled into students from kindergarten through college. Don’t copy off your friends. Don’t write the answers on your hand. Don’t talk to others taking the test about the test. In short: Don’t cheat.

These concepts seem to have escaped an unknown number of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents during a late-2008 test that was recently investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The test was on the FBI’s new policies about surveillance and investigation of U.S. citizens, something we think it would be good for FBI agents to understand.

After five separate allegations of cheating, the OIG launched an investigation into agents’ conduct during the test. The result: 22 agents out of the 76 interviewed had been involved in cheating or improper action.

The report details all manner of bad behavior: superior officers and attorneys passing out answer sheets, group test-taking, taking advantage of “a computer programming flaw,” and explicit lying on the final question that asks agents to certify they took the test — which was already open-book — without help beyond the allowed materials.

The first, and likely hardest, step here is admitting that the FBI needs to audit all its testing locations. As the OIG report recognizes, the FBI does not normally administer pass-fail tests. Agents aren’t used to being required to actually learn the material on the quizzes in their online classroom. This case seriously deviated from the internal norm because the policies that these agents were being tested on are important and not well understood, which makes it that much more important to preserve integrity.

The OIG suggested that the FBI figure out how many agents across all locations actually cheated, take disciplinary action, and then draft a new test and re-conduct it across the entire FBI. This is the obvious answer and we support it. School children know that cheating on tests invalidates the exam and gets them in trouble, and the FBI should face those facts and be held to at least as high a standard.