Sensenbrenner drafting House bill to end ATF

Rep. James Sensenbrenner

Rep. James Sensenbrenner preceded Tom Barrett as a Wisconsin representative. (Photo credit: MSNBC)

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) is in the drafting process of creating legislation that would move the functions of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives into other law enforcement entities.

A Sensenbrenner aide told there is no timetable for release of the legislation.

“By absorbing the ATF into existing law enforcement entities, we can preserve the areas where the ATF adds value for substantially less taxpayer money,” Sensenbrenner recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “While searching for its mission, the ATF has been plagued by decades of high-profile blunders.” Other lawmakers, in the past, also have suggested eliminating the ATF, including Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).

At issue are operational ATF failures, such as the 1993 siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas and the “Operation Fast and Furious” in Phoenix. Further, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation uncovered a series of botched undercover storefront stings across the nation.
Also, supporters of the proposal note duplicative functions with other agencies.

Sensenbrenner pointed to a recent General Accountability Office report on the ATF that found an agency trying to redefine itself while dealing with high personnel turnover and problems tracking its own criminal investigations.

The GAO report found that since fiscal year 2003, ATF has been focusing more on decreasing violent crime. Beginning in 2010, ATF made criminal organization investigations one of its highest priorities, similar to firearms investigations, and deemphasized alcohol and tobacco investigations that do not involve violent crime. ATF data show alcohol and tobacco investigations decreased by 85 percent (from 168 to 25 investigations opened) from fiscal years 2003 through 2013.

The report said that, according to ATF management officials, ATF was unable to hire agents because its funding did not keep pace with the cost of employee salaries and benefits.

The report said ATF does not have readily available data to track and monitor the timeliness and outcomes of delayed denial investigations. Delayed denial investigations are investigations of individuals who improperly purchased firearms when background checks did not initially determine that the individuals were ineligible to purchase a firearm.

The GAO report suggested ATF create a mechanism to readily obtain data on the timeliness of such investigations and to allow managers to easily query and analyze trends on the outcomes of such investigations could help ensure that ATF is retrieving firearms from prohibited persons to maximize public safety.

Calls for comment from ATF on Sensenbrenner’s proposal were not immediately returned.

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