Inspections of Firearms Dealers by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Report Number I-2004-005
|U.S. Department of Justice
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
|Office of the Director||Washington, DC 20226
June 29, 2004
|MEMORANDUM TO:||Assistant Inspector General for Evaluation and Audits|
|SUBJECT:||Response to the Office of Inspector General's (OIG) Draft Report: Review of the Inspections of Firearms Dealers Performed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Assignment Number A-2003-008|
As you know, ATF's move to the Department of Justice (DOJ) established an agency with a more focused mission of preventing the criminal misuse of firearms and explosives. Thus, we have become a stronger, more effective law enforcement and regulatory agency. Through ATF's inspection program and other regulatory activities, we encourage and ensure compliance with the Federal firearms laws and regulations in order to prevent the criminal diversion of firearms and ensure law enforcement's ability to trace crime guns.
ATF knows that Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) with significant compliance problems --though a small percentage of the overall licensee population of approximately 104,000 -are a threat to public safety. Therefore, ATF is committed to continuing to improve its inspection procedures to ensure that all FFLs comply with the firearms laws and regulations, that firearms are not diverted from the legal to illegal market, and that corrupt FFLs are put out of business.
Our responses to your recommendations are as follows:
1. Develop a standard, streamlined inspection process that includes in-person inspections of all applicants; more efficient inventory and records reviews; automated inspection reporting; and consistent examination of indicators of firearms trafficking.
ATF concurs with this recommendation. ATF recognizes that standardized inspection procedures are essential to ensure the most effective inspection techniques are used consistently throughout the country. Moreover, the procedures must be streamlined to ensure our inspector resources are used efficiently. This will enable ATF to ensure FFLs are complying with licensing requirements, which will help prevent the diversion of firearms to the illegal market. While ATF recognizes standard procedures are essential, allowing area supervisors and inspectors to exercise their professional judgment on how to efficiently and effectively conduct certain aspects of the inspection program also is critical to creating a strong regulatory program. ATF identified and began to address deficiencies within our inspection program prior to the initiation of the audit by the OIG. Based on the recommendations, ATF will undertake additional steps to improve our inspection programs.
In-person inspections of all applicants
ATF agrees that firearms application inspections are critical to ensuring compliance with the Federal firearms laws. ATF also agrees that inspections conducted in-person help to ensure a greater understanding of the Federal firearms laws and thus often result in a higher level of FFL compliance. Additionally, in-person inspections help establish an FFL's understanding of the Federal firearms laws at the time of license issuance, which enables ATF to more easily demonstrate "willfulness" if an FFL subsequently does violate the Federal firearms laws.
The Gun Control Act (GCA) requires ATF to process applications within 60-days. As noted in the draft report, historically we have not possessed the resources to inspect all applicants in-person within this timeframe. Because ATF agrees that firearms application inspections should be done in-person, prior to the issuance of this draft report, we revised guidance to our field divisions and now require the in-person inspection of all new applicants in 14 selected metropolitan areas. The application inspections in these 14 locations will be included in our Integrated Violence Reduction Strategy (IVRS) violent crime performance measures that are reported to Congress.
ATF also is taking steps to conduct in-person application inspections nationwide. New procedures issued in June 2004 generally require that an inspector must meet with an applicant in-person. An area supervisor does have discretion under this policy to decide whether an in-person inspection is an effective use of ATF resources. Although telephonic interviews are not ideal, sometimes they are necessary, such as when an FFL is located very far from the ATF field office. Under the June 2004 policy, if an FFL does not have an in-person application inspection, an in-person compliance inspection must be scheduled in the first year after issuance of the license.
Finally, ATF hopes that after studying the allocation of its inspector resources (which is discussed in detail later in this response) and streamlining its inspections (also discussed below), it will have the resources to conduct more in-person application inspections.
More efficient inventory and records review
ATF agrees with the OIG's recommendation that ATF should establish a more efficient inventory and record review process. ATF already has taken steps to achieve this goal. In June 2004, ATF issued a memorandum entitled, "Guidelines for Conducting Federal Firearms Licensee Compliance Inspections." The Guidelines set forth the following requirements for inspectors:
Automated Inspection Reporting
The draft report discusses the extensive paperwork inspectors must complete while at an FFL's premises, which later must be entered into ATF's N-Spect database. The draft report suggests that inspectors be given laptops to use during inspections so that they can streamline this process. ATF agrees using laptops would be a more efficient process, and in fact had issued laptops to all inspectors over 3 years ago. Every inspector has one today.
However, many FFLs are not comfortable with ATF inspectors using laptop computers during inspections. ATF is prohibited by law from creating a registry of firearms and firearm owners. When our inspectors use their laptop computers during an FFL inspection, many FFLs express concern that the computers are being used to create a national firearms registry, rather than being used to automate the inspection process. Inspectors are sensitive to these apprehensions and seek the approval of the FFL prior to using their ATF laptop during an inspection. Because ATF strives to have a cooperative relationship with FFLs, inspectors do not use laptop computers if an FFL does not want them to.
ATFis in the process of reevaluating all workplans and work papers to eliminate work steps and work papers that are not critical to the final report. This should reduce the need for inspectors to complete work papers manually and then reenter the data in N-Spect. Until new procedures are finalized, our inspectors will continue to enter their inspection information in N-SPECT in accordance with established guidelines so that the inspection results can be accurately monitored.
Consistent examination of indicators of firearms trafficking.
The draft report recommends that ATF establish guidance to ensure that inspectors consistently look for known indications of firearms trafficking and, when found, report the findings to ATF's criminal enforcement division. The draft report notes that ATF has taken steps to improve coordination between inspectors and special agents by creating a Special Intelligence Inspector (SII) position in each field division, although it states that as of November 2003 only 7 of the 23 positions had been filled.
ATF agrees this recommendation is essential to ensure we effectively prevent firearms trafficking. The June 2004 memorandum identified trafficking indicators and provided guidelines for referring cases with such indicators to special agents. ATF also is developing a Focused Inspection Work Plan that will concentrate on trafficking indicators. A group comprised of Directors of Industry Operations (DIO) is developing this plan and they will be given this draft report to assist them with the plan. The group is required to have their comments to ATF management by October 1, 2004. Currently, the idea is that for certain inspections, the work steps will be reduced to include only those activities essential to identifying illegal firearm purchases, traffickers, and corrupt FFLs. This will make inspections more efficient, which, will as the OIG suggests in its draft report, enable ATF inspectors to conduct more inspections.
In addition, ATF continually works to improve the coordination between inspectors and special agents. Currently, 10 SII positions have been filled and we are actively trying to fill the others. Furthermore, ATF has tasked a working group of upper management to analyze how unified operations of criminal and regulatory personnel can best be structured to achieve efficiency and meet the goals of our strategic plan.
Other steps ATF is taking to standardize and streamline the inspection process.
In addition, ATF currently is updating its Inspector Handbook to provide better guidance to inspectors on the conducting of inspections. As noted earlier, ATF is analyzing the entire report and work paper process and evaluating the use of a narrative report. This review will examine all facets of the inspection report, including the work program, work papers, gathering evidence of violations, applicability of statistical sampling, and a standard narrative report format. Through this reevaluation process, ATF will improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the inspection process.
2. Conduct a pilot project to test the streamlined inspection procedures and establish appropriate time standards for conducting these inspections.
ATF concurs with this recommendation.
As stated above, ATF is developing streamlined, standardized inspection procedures. We will conduct a pilot project of the procedures during FY -05 in several field divisions.
3. Revise the staffing requirement report using the time standards to reflect the number of inspectors needed to conduct compliance inspections on a triennial basis, or an alternative schedule based on the FFL's compliance history.
ATF concurs with this recommendation.
A working group of senior managers has been tasked with developing a workload model for field resources. At this time, a completion date has not been determined but a status report is due to the Assistant Director (Field Operations) in late June 2004. Presently, the managers are evaluating factors such as crime statistics, task forces, immediate and long term needs, and the FFL population, for inclusion in the workload model. The working group will be given a copy of this draft report. They will be asked to consider the shorter inspection times provided in the report, as well as an alternative inspection schedule based on an FFL's compliance history, in developing the model.
Once the new workload model is finalized, ATF will evaluate the staffing levels at each of our field offices to ensure they operate effectively and efficiently to meet our mission. At that time, we will determine if voluntary reassignments are necessary.
4. Develop alternatives for better aligning inspector resources with the distribution of FFLs, such as by redrawing field division boundaries, realigning personnel, or other methods.
ATF concurs with this recommendation.
The draft report found ATF has not distributed its inspector resources among the field divisions to match the distribution of FFLs, resulting in workload imbalances among the field divisions. ATF agrees that to most effectively conduct FFL inspections, inspector resources must be matched to the FFL population.
ATF inspectors, presently and historically, have responsibilities beyond inspecting FFLs. The division of ATF into the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as the passage of the Safe Explosives Act, caused ATF's regulatory landscape to be redrawn. There is no longer a need for inspectors to focus on alcohol and tobacco issues, but they now have more extensive explosives responsibilities. Moreover, with the creation of TTB, ATF experienced a 25 percent reduction in inspectors nationwide, which is much higher than ATF originally anticipated. These factors have created some of the current imbalances between the numbers of inspectors and FFLs amongst the field divisions.
As stated in response to recommendation number 3, ATF is creating a new workload model for inspector staffing. Once it is finalized, we will determine if we need to reassign inspectors to better align inspector resources with the distribution of FFLs. At this time, ATF is not planning to modify the existing structure of23 field divisions. However, we are consolidating our DIO positions so that they accurately correspond to FFL and explosives inspection workloads and inspector resources.
Further, ATF has contracted with an academic researcher to assess and provide recommendations to improve ATF's firearms-related strategic plan and generate performance measures to help us maximize our existing resources.
Finally, ATF is taking steps to help us better target which FFLs to inspect. This will allow us to use our inspector resources more efficiently. Our plan is to use accepted statistical sampling concepts to assign FFL inspections as part of a random sample compliance model. We currently are gathering information regarding the factors that should be employed to analyze the FFL population. Once that information is collected, analyzed, and validated, it will be applied to the FFL population to generate inspection assignments using a viable risk model.
5. Update the inspection tracking system to accurately segregate and report on inspector time spent preparing for the inspections, in travel, on site at FFLs, and conducting other administrative duties.
ATF does not concur with this recommendation.
ATF is committed to monitoring the time inspectors spend on various assignments, so that we can ensure inspectors are operating efficiently and can work to align inspector resources with regulatory needs across the country. However, ATF does not believe it is necessary to categorize inspector work time by function (e.g., travel time v. preparation time) to achieve this goal.
Rather, ATF's case management system, N-FOCIS, uses project codes that categorize by "commodity" activity, e.g., firearms, which allows us to properly capture all administrative costs associated with ATF's mission. N-FOCIS has recently undergone system upgrades that allow us to track an inspector's activity using detailed profile codes.
Using these codes, ATF can differentiate between types of firearms inspections, application versus compliance, and within these, the types of specific inspections. For example, compliance has many subcategories including random sample, focused, etc. These system improvements enable ATF to gather data to compare inspections and related travel, to non-inspection work time. The changes provide for better categorization of inspector workloads. Although the purpose of N-FOCIS is to facilitate the tracking of commodity activities, firearms versus explosives versus alcohol and tobacco, and not capture timekeeping activities, N-FOCIS does segregate and capture general assignments that are completed by field personnel. Therefore, it provides us with an accurate picture of the time spent by field personnel on assignments.
6. Prepare quarterly reports on the productivity and results achieved by each field division.
ATF concurs with this recommendation.
ATF agrees it is essential to monitor the productivity of the field divisions so that we can ensure our resources are being used as efficiently and effectively as possible. We also must monitor the results of inspections to provide us with information on where trafficking problems may exist.
In order to address this issue, ATF recently created the position of Deputy Assistant Director (Field Operations -Industry Operations) to help manage ATF's regulatory enforcement efforts, including recent initiatives mentioned in the draft report and in this response. One of the first projects the Deputy Assistant Director undertook was creating a quarterly report detailing productivity and results achieved by each field division. The first report, covering the 1st and 2nd quarters of the current fiscal year, was issued in May 2004. This report provides data on how many total inspections have been completed, including how many focused and random sampling inspections, along with the remaining workload projections of each field division for this fiscal year.
The quarterly report will ensure that each field division is working on mandated Headquarters projects and demonstrate whether they are successfully completing the projects. Additionally, the reports will make ATF management aware of the constraints that the field divisions are operating under. If targets are not met, steps can be taken to address the underlying problem. The reports also will show where potential trafficking problems may exist.
Furthermore, ATF recently has established the Case Management Branch (CMB) within our Field Operations Directorate to track and evaluate industry operations and criminal enforcement activities, conduct case comparisons, and make recommendations to management when needed. The CMB works closely with the field offices and the Deputy Assistant Director (Field Operations -Industry Operations) to ensure data integrity and workload priorities are being met.
7. Direct the National Licensing Center to develop an adverse action tracking system to monitor the progress and timeliness of FFL denials and revocations from the time an inspector makes a recommendation until the proceedings are finalized.
We concur with this recommendation.
A tracking system will help ATF ensure FFL denials and revocations proceed as efficiently as possible, which is essential to ensuring FFLs who violate the Federal firearms laws do not remain in the business of selling firearms.
The Division Chief, Firearms and Explosives Services, has been given the responsibility of developing and monitoring an improved adverse action tracking system for denials and revocations of licenses. Currently, the tracking system only covers FFLs who, having been issued a notice of revocation or denial, have requested a hearing. The system will be expanded to include all cases where a notice of revocation or denial is issued. (please note, it would not be useful for an inspector recommendation to initiate the tracking system, because until a supervisor approves the denial or revocation action, no notice will be issued.) Moreover, under the new system, an e-copy of the tracking report will be forwarded to all Division Counsel on a monthly basis. Division Counsel previously have not been notified, on a regular basis, of the status of adverse action cases. Keeping counsel timely apprised of how many adverse actions are in their division, as well as how long they have been pending, will enable counsel to address any workload concerns.
Further, under the new system, we will provide an e-copy of the tracking report to all DIOs on a monthly basis. This will enable DIOs to be aware of any delays caused by either their staff or the FFL which impact on the progress of the adverse action.
Finally, additional data fields will be incorporated into the revised tracking system to more accurately reflect the progress of adverse actions.
8. Continue coordinating with the Department of Justice, Office of Legislative Affairs, to gain the authority to suspend or impose civil penalties on FFLs that violate Federal firearms laws.
ATF concurs with this recommendation.
ATF will continue to work with the Department of Justice's Office of Legislative Affairs on this matter. Specifically, ATF will discuss the benefits of having regulatory options other than revocation, such as license suspension, the authority to issue civil penalties for minor violations, and the authority to resolve disputes short of litigation through offers in compromise.
We would like to clarify one misstatement in the draft report. The draft report states ATF has no authority to fine FFLs. ATF actually has authority to fine FFLs in one limited situation: if an FFL does not conduct a required National Instant Criminal Background System (NICS) check and the person would have been prohibited from possessing or receiving a firearm, the FFL may be fined not more than $5,000.
9. To improve the comprehensiveness of crime gun tracing by law enforcement agencies:
a. Coordinate with the Office of Justice Programs to determine the feasibility of using discretionary grant funding to support crime gun tracing.
ATF concurs with this recommendation.
A discussion will be held with other DOJ entities to determine the feasibility of using discretionary grant funding to support local police departments who want to trace all crime guns. We will initiate such discussions soon.
b. Develop a model for more accurately identifying potential firearms trafficking through the analysis of an FFL's firearms sales volume and the number of firearms traced to the FFL.
ATF conditionally concurs with this recommendation.
ATF continually works to better identify FFLs who may be a source of trafficked firearms so that it can focus its inspection and enforcement efforts on these dealers. However, ATF presently cannot capture the ratio of firearm sales to firearms traced for all FFLs. This is because ATF does not have access to real time firearms retail sales data for all FFLs. NICS data does not represent the complete sales picture. Purchasers may and often do acquire more than one firearm on a single NICS check. Moreover, purchasers who possess State-issued firearms permits that qualify as an exception for a NICS check obtain firearms without the check. In addition, it can be difficult for ATF to get data from States who serve as Points of Contact for NICS. Since not all FFLs are inspected annually, we cannot get this information from FFL inspections. Further, since not all law enforcement entities trace crime guns, our tracing data is not comprehensive.
However, since October 2000, ATF has obtained information on firearms dispositions from FFLs on their applications for license renewal. The data reported covers the 3-year period of the previous license. It may be possible to compare this data with trace data sorted by FFL. In theory, those FFLs with the highest ratio of traces, in the past 3 years, to reported dispositions could then be identified and scheduled for compliance inspection. While the data periods of any such effort would not be consistent across FFLs and the results might not be easily developed, ATF will attempt to come up with such a ratio analysis, perhaps on a pilot basis. If the project is successful, we will adopt it as an additional indicator of FFLs to inspect.
Moreover, since 2000, ATF has invested significant resources to using firearm trace information to target which FFLs should be inspected using factors other than the ratio of guns traced to gun sales. ATF believes these efforts have been effective.
Results of the Review:
As stated previously, we would like to comment on the findings of the draft report.
The ATF does not conduct in-person application inspections on all new FFLs to verify applicant information and ensure that they understand firearms laws.
ATF agrees that firearms application inspections are critical to ensuring compliance with the Federal firearms laws and that inspections conducted in-person help to ensure a greater understanding of the Federal firearms laws and thus often achieve a higher level of FFL compliance. Additionally, in-person inspections help establish an FFL's understanding of the Federal firearms laws at the time of license issuance, which enables ATF to more easily demonstrate "willfulness" if an FFL subsequently does violate the Federal firearms laws.
Because ATF agrees that firearms application inspections should be done in-person, prior to the issuance of this report, we revised guidance to our field divisions requiring the in- person inspection of all new applicants in 14 selected metropolitan areas. ATF also is taking steps to conduct in-person application inspections nationwide. New procedures issued in June 2004 generally require that an inspector must meet with an applicant in- person. An area supervisor does have discretion under this policy to decide whether an in-person interview is an effective use of ATF resources. Under the June 2004 policy, if an FFL does not have an in-person application inspection, an in-person compliance inspection must be scheduled in the first year after issuance of the license.
The ATF does not regularly conduct compliance inspections on active FFLs, including large-scale retailers.
ATF recognizes it cannot conduct annual compliance inspections of all FFLs because of the large population of licensees (104,000) and the small number of inspectors (420). Therefore, ATF works to most effectively utilize its inspector resources. For example, it focuses on licensees with a history of non-compliance and licensees with indicators of firearms trafficking, as well as carrying out its random sample inspection program. As stated elsewhere in this report, ATF is undertaking new efforts to effectively target FFLs for inspection, streamline the inspection process to allow for more inspections overall, and deploy its inspector resources more efficiently. Moreover, ATF has been working to ensure only FFLs who are engaged in the business of dealing in firearms, as required by the Gun Control Act, are licensed so that regulatory resources are not wasted on persons who do not merit firearms licenses.
Finally, the fact that an FFL is large does not exclude it from being selected for inspection. In fact, inspections of many large FFLs are mandated under ATF's Focused Inspection Program, because they have large numbers of firearm traces or trafficking indicators.
The ATF does not identify and inspect all FFLs that exhibited indicators of potential violations or gun trafficking.
ATF does identify all FFLs that exhibit indicators of potential violations or gun trafficking based on trace data available. However, we limit inspection requirements based upon our available inspector resources. We direct our resources to those FFLs that appear most problematic. The initiatives discussed throughout this response should enable ATF to inspect more of these FFLs in the future. For example, as discussed above, ATF is presently undertaking the use of accepted statistical sampling concepts to assign FFL inspections. ATF is gathering information regarding the factors that should be employed to analyze the FFL population. Once those factors are collected, analyzed and validated, they will be applied to the FFL population to generate inspection assignments using a viable risk model. Similarly, the new work plan focusing on trafficking should both highlight trafficking problems and enable more efficient inspections which will allow for more inspections.
Gun tracing has significant shortcomings that limit its use for identifying FFLs that should be inspected.
ATF's National Tracing Center (NTC), the only organization of its kind in the United States, provides 24-hour assistance to Federal, State, local, and foreign law enforcement agencies in their fight against violent crime involving firearms. The draft report states that it was established in 1994. However, ATF has traced crime guns since Federal law first required FFLs to maintain their records. 1994 simply was the year the NTC moved to its present site in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
ATF's NTC plays a critical role both in assisting other law enforcement entities and in targeting ATF's enforcement and regulatory resources. While ATF agrees there currently are some problems with using tracing statistics to identify FFLs to inspect, ATF is taking steps to address these problems. Moreover, after taking potential biases created by these problems into account, ATF does make extensive use of trace data in targeting FFLs to inspect.
One current limitation with trace data is that not all law enforcement agencies conduct comprehensive tracing as is the case in Youth Crime Gun Interdiction Initiative cities. Increased use of tracing in areas where it is not currently conducted would help identify FFLs to inspect. As stated in response to recommendation 9, ATF will work to encourage more localities to do comprehensive tracing.
Another weakness of trace data raised in the draft report is that most used guns cannot be traced because absent any State regulation, there is no requirement to document transfers between individuals. ATF's "Demand Letter" program identifies dealers who may have a large number of traces associated with the secondhand sales of firearms. By collecting limited used gun information from these FFLs, ATF is able to trace any second hand guns sold by these dealers.
The third weakness discussed in the draft report is the lack of a ratio of guns traced to sales volume. Once again, ATF is taking steps to address this problem. As discussed in response to recommendation 9, efforts will be made to identify the relationship between sales volume and traced firearms.
While these weaknesses do exist, ATF believes it currently uses its trace data effectively to target FFLs for inspections. For example, ATF's "Focused Inspection" and "Demand Letter" programs use this data and have achieved beneficial results. The draft report concludes that traces originating in particular cities are associated with dealers in and around those cities. However, there are many cities with firearms sourced on a regional and national basis. Therefore, it is not especially useful to compare, as the draft report does, the number of traces submitted by law enforcement in a field division and the number of inspections in that field division. ATF's Focused Inspection and Demand Programs capture FFLs with trafficking indicators no matter where the firearms are used in crime. FFLs are routinely identified for inspection if they meet the criteria for having a certain number of short time-to-crime traces, no matter where the law enforcement agencies that requested the traces were located. (This was the basis for increased enforcement activity regarding FFLs in Mississippi who were identified through guns recovered in Chicago).
Moreover, ATF often relies on field offices to be aware of the trace histories of the local dealer population to focus their inspection efforts. The draft report reflected that field offices were making such efforts. Further, field offices increasingly have been asking the NTC for FFL trace histories, showing they are trying to better target their inspection efforts.
Field Office FFL History Requests:
ATF field divisions implement FFL inspections inconsistently.
ATF has been working on standardizing and streamlining the present procedures for conducting firearms inspections since before the initiation of the OIG audit. The new guidelines issued in June 2004 establish clear guidance for how inspections are to be conducted. We are confident they will make inspections more consistent across field divisions.
Suspected criminal violations are not always referred for investigation.
The June 2004 guidelines remind inspectors that information referrals should be made when trafficking indicators are present. Moreover, as discussed in response to recommendation 1, ATF is working to better coordinate its regulatory and enforcement personnel.
The ATF acts infrequently to revoke Federal firearms licenses, and the process is not timely. New ATF policy begins to address inconsistent and untimely adverse actions.
ATF appreciates the draft report's recognition of the recent changes to ATF's adverse action policy to improve consistency, efficiency, and ensure FFLs who willfully violate the GCA receive a revocation or denial notice when appropriate. While ATF recognized the need to make changes in our adverse action procedure, we disagree with the draft report's suggestion that ATF previously acted improperly by infrequently revoking Federal firearms licenses.
In reviewing the number inspections conducted in the field and the number of adverse actions taken as a result of those inspections, the draft report noted the discrepancy between average inspection time and the number of adverse actions taken by the field divisions. The report fails to note the critical components that comprise the decision to take adverse action against an FFL. The report should reflect that not all violations can (or should) result in an adverse action against an FFL. The legal standard is "willfulness." Many violations noted by an inspector may be so inadvertent that they cannot satisfy the legal standard of "willfulness."
In addition, some willful violations may not warrant revocation/denial if there are mitigating circumstances. In such cases, the violation is noted but no formal action is taken against the FFL. Rather, the FFL is educated about better methods and procedures to avoid such errors in the future. Hence, the fact that inspectors have taken a great deal of time inspecting and documenting violations by an FFL, but have failed to take formal legal action against the FFL, cannot be construed, by itself, as inappropriate. ATF works diligently to promote voluntary compliance, protect the public, and deny and revoke licenses when appropriate.
This finding and the accompanying narrative make it appear that ATF is allowing some FFLs whose licenses should be revoked to remain in business. However, when ATF specifically asked if the OIG had found a single case of ATF not taking action where warranted, the OIG staff replied no. ATF believes it appropriately undertakes revocation and denial actions when evidence of willful violations support such action.
In addition, the draft report does not reflect the fact that many FFLs withdraw renewal applications when they are put on notice that their application likely will be denied and surrender their license when told it likely will be revoked.
Finally, while we are working to better track adverse actions as discussed in response to recommendation 7, revocation and denial proceedings often are slow for reasons beyond ATF's control. The legal process for denial/revocation has time constraints that bind ATF, but not the FFL. For example, FFLs often ask for and receive extensions of time to respond to notices, making the process lengthy.
By streamlining and standardizing inspections, the ATF could dramatically improve the FFL inspection program.
ATF identified and began to address deficiencies within our inspection program prior to the initiation of the OIG audit. ATF issued guidelines to streamline and standardize compliance inspections in June 2004 that were effective immediately. ATF's Field Operations and Enforcement Programs and Services Directorates will be monitoring inspection field activities closely.
ATF does not consistently report inspection performance.
ATF recognizes that inspection performance data must be closely scrutinized. This concern was discussed at great length with the Audit Team during the OIG audit. ATF is committed to ensuring integrity of our performance indicators.
As discussed in response to recommendation 5, modifications and upgrades have been made to N-FOCIS to streamline the way it captures activity by commodity. These modifications and improvements will help to ensure that data runs accurately reflect field activity and remain constant over the course of time. Additionally, ATF's Office of Strategic Intelligence is generating quarterly reports for the program offices so that field activity can be monitored regularly.
New restrictions on retention of gun purchaser data will hinder the ATF's ability to detect fraudulent background checks.
Although ATF will no longer be able to have NICS verify information from ATF Forms 4473 for transferees who received proceed responses from NICS, this will not hinder our ability to ensure FFLs do not abuse the NICS system. We are developing a procedure that will allow inspectors to obtain "Individual FFL Audit Logs" from the FBI prior to inspections. These logs will contain certain data that will be utilized during inspections to corroborate the veracity of information provided to, and received from, NICS. This includes all information for denied transactions and data such as the date NICS was contacted, the NICS Transaction Number (NTN), and the response provided, for a 60 day time period for proceed transactions. ATF inspectors will also have the ability to conduct NICS rechecks to ensure FFLs did not provide NICS with false information. The draft report incorrectly suggests that the rechecks only can tell if the purchaser should have been approved at the time of the recheck because the FBI will be told the date of the original check, it can disregard any changes to the purchaser's status since that date. ATF also uses a tool called the NTN validator to ensure FFLs are not creating false NTNs when no NICS check was completed. Thus, as stated above, the new restrictions will not impede our regulatory and enforcement efforts.
In conclusion, we wanted to provide a summary of significant steps ATF has or will take to address the recommendations and findings of the OIG draft report:
Again, we appreciate the opportunity to respond to the draft report and look forward to continuing our efforts to address the issues it raised. If you have any questions regarding this response, please contact, Carol Campbell Audit Liaison, Office of Inspection, at (202) 927-8276.