Review of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Disciplinary System

Evaluation and Inspections Report I-2005-009
September 2005
Office of the Inspector General

Conclusion and Recommendations


Although the establishment of a Bureau Deciding Official improved the consistency, reasonableness, and timeliness of the adjudication of discipline cases under the centralized process, we conclude that further improvements are needed to address the problems we found in the ATF’s disciplinary system.

We found that the ATF does not ensure that all allegations of employee misconduct are reported to the ATF Investigations Division and the OIG, as required. The ATF’s failure to ensure consistent reporting enabled some serious misconduct cases to be investigated and adjudicated under the decentralized process, in which no formal investigation is required.

The ATF’s practice of allowing a single individual to serve as both the proposing and deciding official for an employee misconduct case removes the checks and balances normally in place in the disciplinary system and increases the likelihood for an unreasonable disciplinary result. Also, the ATF inconsistently considers prior discipline, and inconsistencies in the disciplinary database impede the ATF’s ability to ensure that discipline is consistent for similar misconduct cases. Deciding officials do not always thoroughly document their reasons for mitigating proposed discipline.

We found that the average time the ATF took to investigate and adjudicate misconduct cases was within the range of the processing times of other Department components we have reviewed. However, the ATF has not implemented timeliness standards or goals to measure the discipline system’s performance.

For the time period reviewed, the Bureau Deciding Official pilot project improved the timeliness, consistency, and reasonableness of disciplinary decisions in the centralized process. Based on our review of the pilot project, we believe the use of a Bureau Deciding Official will produce more consistent, reasonable, and timely adjudicative decisions.


We provide nine recommendations to help the ATF better ensure that its disciplinary system is timely, consistent, and reasonable. The recommendations focus on ensuring compliance with misconduct reporting requirements; thorough investigation of misconduct allegations; consistent and reasonable adjudication of misconduct cases; consistent implementation of discipline imposed; and timely system performance. We recommend that the ATF:

  1. Remind all employees on an annual basis, particularly local managers and ELRT staff, that any allegation or information concerning misconduct must be promptly reported to the ATF Investigations Division or the OIG.

  2. Require that all investigations of alleged misconduct be conducted or reviewed by the ATF Investigations Division before the misconduct case can be adjudicated.

  3. Properly categorize misconduct to accurately reflect the underlying misconduct, rather than applying generic charges such as “poor judgment.”

  4. Establish data entry and quality control standards and procedures for all information entered in its automated disciplinary database and for all documentation collected and maintained in the disciplinary case files.

  5. Require that each decision letter that reduces the proposed discipline adequately document the reasons for the mitigation.

  6. Establish a time period for how far back prior discipline should be considered.

  7. Prohibit the same individual from serving as the proposing and deciding official for the same misconduct case.

  8. Establish policies and procedures, including management reviews, to ensure that discipline imposed is consistently implemented.

  9. Establish time standards and performance measures for the investigation and adjudication phases for the centralized and decentralized disciplinary processes.

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