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

Purpose, Scope, and Methodology


The OIG conducted this review to assess the effectiveness of the ATF’s system for investigating allegations of employee misconduct and for disciplining employees who are found to have committed misconduct. Specifically, we reviewed the consistency and reasonableness of the reporting and investigation of alleged misconduct, adjudication of misconduct cases, and implementation of the discipline imposed by the ATF. We also reviewed the timeliness of the ATF’s disciplinary system for processing misconduct cases. Also, at the request of the ATF, we evaluated a pilot project intended to improve the adjudication of the centralized process misconduct cases.


We reviewed allegations of misconduct by ATF employees that resulted in disciplinary action or clearances in FY 2002 through FY 2004. We excluded discipline cases that were still open as of September 30, 2004.


Background. To better understand the ATF’s disciplinary system, we reviewed policies, procedures, briefing documents, personnel case logs, and other documents relating to the ATF’s disciplinary system. We also reviewed OIG Investigations Division data relating to the ATF’s disciplinary system, previous OIG reports concerning Department disciplinary systems, a Department of the Treasury OIG report on the ATF’s disciplinary system,23 and federal and Department-wide laws and regulations applicable to disciplinary systems.

Interviews. We interviewed ATF officials and staff from the three offices involved with the operation of the disciplinary system. From the Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations, we interviewed the Assistant Director of the Directorate and the Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Investigations, as well as one Special Agent and two administrative staff from the Office of Investigations. From the Office of Management, we interviewed the Assistant Director of the Directorate, the Chief of the Employee Labor Relations Team, three Employee Labor Relations Team Specialists, the Information Technology Specialist, the Chair of the Professional Review Board, and the Professional Review Board’s three Employee Relations Specialists. We also interviewed three current Professional Review Board members, a former Professional Review Board Chair, and the Bureau Deciding Official. We interviewed the Associate Chief Counsel and Deputy Associate Chief Counsel for the Administration and Ethics Division in the Office of Chief Counsel. In addition, we conducted telephonic interviews with six managers in ATF Field Offices who have served as proposing or deciding officials in misconduct cases.

Data. The ATF also provided us with disciplinary case information from its database, HR Connect. The data we received came from a segment of the database that Employee Labor Relations Team and Professional Review Board Specialists use for processing disciplinary adjudications and also from a separate segment of the database that the Office of Investigations uses to track allegations of misconduct and internal investigations. Neither segment of the database is subject to formal quality assurance policies and procedures. Thus, for the purposes of our review, we relied primarily upon the case data in the physical case files, rather than case information pulled from the database.

Disciplinary Case File Review. To evaluate both processes within the ATF’s disciplinary system, including the impact of the Bureau Deciding Official pilot program on the centralized process, we selected 230 case files to review. Of the 230 misconduct case files we selected:

  • 154 closed cases from the centralized process, 77 of which were decided by the Bureau Deciding Official. The other 77 closed cases we reviewed were adjudicated by local management prior to the initiation of the Bureau Deciding Official pilot project, and

  • 76 closed cases from the decentralized process.

Investigative File Review. We verified the existence of the incident reports and investigative reports for all of the disciplinary case files that we reviewed. We collected timeliness data on the dates on which allegations of misconduct were reported and the dates on which the investigations were closed from the incident reports and investigative reports. We also requested that the OIG’s Investigations Division subjectively sample and review 17 reports of investigation to determine whether the investigations were thorough and complete. We also requested a review of the investigative portion of the 76 decentralized process disciplinary case files to determine whether the misconduct was reported to the OIG and whether the misconduct should have been reported to the OIG.

To support our analysis of disciplinary consistency, we compared case information from the ATF’s disciplinary database to the information in the disciplinary case files that we reviewed. We compared 134 database summary sheets that were in the case files that we reviewed to the disciplinary case file information to determine whether the database accurately reflected the misconduct charges and penalties in the case files. We also compared the misconduct case list provided to us from the disciplinary database to the case list from the investigative database to determine whether the disciplinary database’s case list was complete.

Employee Survey. We conducted an e-mail survey of a random sample of ATF employees to determine their experience with and perception of the ATF’s disciplinary system. We sent surveys to 860 ATF employees and received 421 responses.

SF-50 Review. To verify that the discipline imposed in the misconduct cases that we reviewed had actually been implemented, we requested that the ATF provide us with a copy of all SF-50s for suspensions, demotions, removals, and reductions in grade processed between FY 2002 to FY 2004. We matched these to the cases in our sample.

Definitions. We defined our evaluation criteria – consistency, reasonableness, and timeliness – based on the interpretations of these criteria used in three previous OIG reports examining Department disciplinary systems.24 We defined consistency, reasonableness, and timeliness as follows:

  • Consistency: Whether the policies and procedures in place were followed; whether the disciplinary system processed similar misconduct cases using uniform standards; and whether the disciplinary system imposed uniform penalties for similar misconduct across the ATF and within the same location.

  • Reasonableness: How thorough the investigations and adjudications appeared; how objective and independent the process for investigating and adjudicating misconduct cases appeared; and how logical or appropriate the penalties for the misconduct appeared.

  • Timeliness: Whether policies and procedures in place ensured timely disciplinary results and how often the disciplinary system met formally established time and performance standards.


  1. U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Inspector General, Integrity Oversight Review of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, March 2001.

  2. These three OIG reports are Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Disciplinary System, I-2004-008, September 2004; Review of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Disciplinary System, I-2004-002, January 2004; and Review of the United States Marshals Service Discipline Process, I-2001-011, September 2001.

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