One of the overlooked aspects of Obama’s proposal to reduce gun-related violence and prevent mass shootings is his desire to revamp and revitalize the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Of the 23 Executive Orders in his plan, at least two mention the ATF directly, number 6, which primes the pumps for universal background checks, “Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers” and number 11, which is an attempt to solidify the agency’s leadership, “Nominate an ATF director.”
Plus, there’s at least one other EO that would presumably involve the ATF, number 13, “Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.”
Obviously, this is rather vague, but it stands to reason that the federal agency dedicated to protecting “our communities from violent criminals, criminal organizations, the illegal use and trafficking of firearms…” would be part of this renewed effort to curb gun violence.
In short, it’s pretty clear that the White House wants to expand the ATF’s role in crime fighting while giving it a facelift of sorts.
As mentioned, one of the more pressing matters is confirming the now Acting Director of the ATF, B. Todd Jones as the agency’s official leader. Jones assumed the role in August 2011 following the resignation of former Acting Director Kenneth Melson, who stepped down in the wake of the fatally flawed Operation Fast and Furious.
Hand-picked by Attorney General Eric Holder, Jones was supposed to be the guy to restore the public’s faith in the beleaguered and scandal-ridden agency, but as it turns out he is no stranger to controversy himself. Under his watch, a Milwaukee sting operation targeting drug dealers and gunrunners fell by the wayside.
As Examiner.com reported earlier last month:
But no high level arrests were made, although some 36 low level street thugs were charged with various crimes.
Instead, the sting resulted in a machine gun being lost on the streets of Milwaukee, guns and ammunition being stolen from an ATF SUV, and a burglary during which $35,000 in merchandise was stolen from the store.
After the operation was brought to a halt and the building was being cleared out, ATF agents and members of the Milwaukee police department also inadvertently left behind in the empty store a list containing the names, vehicles, and phone numbers of all of the undercover agents involved in the sting.
Plainly put, the ATF proved once again that it is a poorly run and inept arm of the Department of Justice (which one can argue is also poorly run and inept). And with respect to Jones, it raised legitimate questions about his ability to lead.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) spoke about the reservations he has regarding Jones’s confirmation.
“The White House waited nearly two years to name its last ATF nominee and then, when I requested additional information on his background, never responded and didn’t attempt to move him,” Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary committee, said.
“Consequently, the ATF is rife with issues within its leadership. So it’s important that we get this nomination right, and it would help the process if the White House and Mr. Jones would provide the information we’re seeking on several issues that Mr. Jones has been involved in,” he continued.
It appears that the ATF is still an agency in turmoil. Given this, why would any sensible lawmaker back Obama’s push to make the agency more powerful?
On a side note, back in August of 2011 I wrote an article entitled “Why Congress Should Consider Cutting Funding to the ATF,” and I argued that the ATF should be shut down, not for political reasons but because it’s simply inefficient. I still stand by that assessment. Some excerpts):
The operating budget for the ATF has gone up almost every year (see chart below). However, the number of employees has remained relatively stagnant while the cost/employee has also risen almost every year, even when adjusted for inflation.
If the ATF were to be operating at the 1973 cost/employee today (2009), it would only be spending approx. $92,000/employee. And if the ATF were operating at the 2000 cost/employee today (2009), it would only be spending $165,000/employee. As mentioned, it is spending $242,000 per employee…
The basic argument here is the federal government is spending more money on an agency that is not producing more results. Over the past decade the budget for the ATF has doubled, while the number of convictions remains sporadic and non-correlative to money spent.
Admittedly, there are certain limitations to tying the ATF’s efficiency to the number of convictions, as there are legal variables that are beyond the control of the agency. However, in a period of economic instability where the U.S. is running up a trillion dollar budget deficit, continuing to spend more money on any government agency, especially one that has not been a sterling example of efficiency, seems unconscionable