Semiannual Report to Congress
April 1, 2004September 30, 2004
Office of the Inspector General
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
The ATF enforces federal laws on firearms, explosives, and arson and administers the U.S. Criminal Code provisions on alcohol and tobacco smuggling and diversion. It seeks to combat terrorism, regulate the firearms and explosives industries, and provide training to federal, state, local, and international law enforcement partners. Its nearly 4,700 special agents, inspectors, regulatory specialists, forensic auditors, laboratory technicians, and other personnel work primarily in 23 field divisions across the 50 states and in offices in Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Canada, Colombia, and France.
Inspection of Federally Licensed Firearms Dealers
This report was the OIG's first major review of the ATF, which transferred to the Department in January 2003 from the Department of the Treasury. During the review, the OIG examined the ATF's program for inspecting the more than 104,000 Federal Firearms Licensees (FFL). The OIG focused on how the ATF selects firearms dealers for inspection, the frequency and quality of the ATF's inspections, and the enforcement actions taken by the ATF against dealers who violate federal firearms laws.
The OIG's review found that the ATF's inspection program is not fully effective in ensuring that FFLs comply with federal firearms laws because inspections are infrequent and of inconsistent quality. In addition, follow-up inspections and adverse actions taken against FFLs by the ATF have been sporadic. We found that the ATF does not conduct in-person inspections on all applicants before licensing them to sell firearms and that ATF compliance inspections of active firearms dealers are infrequent and vary in quality. Even when the ATF found numerous or serious violations, it did not uniformly take adverse actions, refer FFLs for investigation, or conduct timely follow-up inspections. The OIG's review also found wide variations in the ATF inspection program's productivity and its implementation among the ATF's 23 field divisions. At its current rate, the ATF would take more than 22 years to conduct compliance inspections on all FFLs.
The OIG made nine recommendations to help improve the ATF's inspection program, including developing a standard inspection process, revising staffing requirements, improving the comprehensiveness of crime gun tracing by law enforcement agencies, and creating a tracking system to monitor the progress and timeliness of FFL denials and revocations. The review also noted that the ATF had taken significant steps to improve its inspection program since the OIG began its review. The ATF fully concurred with seven of the recommendations, conditionally concurred with one, and did not concur with one recommendation.
Enforcement of Brady Act Violations
The OIG examined how the ATF responds to violations of the Brady Act by firearms purchasers. The Gun Control Act of 1968 established nine categories of persons prohibited from possessing firearms (e.g., illegal aliens or individuals with felony convictions). In addition, the Brady Act established the 3-day waiting period during which the FBI checks the prospective firearms purchaser's background through its National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). If the background check takes longer than three days, the firearms dealer is permitted to transfer the firearm to the purchaser. If prohibiting factors are later identified in the purchaser's background, the ATF must retrieve the weapon or ensure that it is turned over to someone permitted under federal law to possess the firearm.
The OIG found that although the ATF eventually was able to retrieve firearms transferred to these prohibited persons in almost all cases, the retrievals were not always timely. Of the 188 cases in the OIG's sample, the ATF resolved 110 (59 percent) within one month. However, in 28 cases, the ATF took from 4 months to more than 1 year to retrieve the firearms. In addition, the OIG found that the ATF's Brady Operations Branch does not have sufficient resources to pursue Brady Act violations in a timely manner. Furthermore, the OIG's review found that few NICS cases are prosecuted, partly because the cases lack "jury appeal" and partly because of the difficulty proving that the prohibited person was aware of the prohibition against possessing a firearm and intentionally lied to the firearms dealer.
The OIG's report made ten recommendations to the ATF to help better manage its Brady Act caseload and improve the effectiveness of its process for referring cases to ATF field agents and prosecutors. The ATF concurred with eight of the recommendations. The OIG also made one recommendation each to the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA) and the FBI. These recommendations will help ensure that the ATF's resources are focused on Brady Act cases that are likely to be prosecuted and cases in which the FBI has determined that prohibited persons have obtained firearms. The EOUSA and the FBI concurred with the recommendations and are taking corrective actions.
Implementation of the Safe Explosives Act
The OIG is assessing the ATF's implementation of the Safe Explosives Act, which is intended to prevent explosives accidents and reduce the possibility of the theft of explosives for potential terrorist use. The review is assessing whether the ATF has timely and effectively implemented appropriate management systems, oversight mechanisms, and review and enforcement procedures designed to meet the objectives of the legislation.
The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network Program
The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) is a national ballistic imaging system used by forensic firearms examiners to obtain computerized images of the unique marks made on bullets and cartridge cases when firearms are fired. The OIG is reviewing whether NIBIN has been fully deployed with the capability to compare ballistic images on a national level; whether controls are adequate to ensure that all bullets and cartridge casings collected at crime scenes and from test-fires of crime firearms are entered into NIBIN; and whether controls are adequate to ensure that ballistic images of bullets and cartridge casings from newly manufactured, imported, or sold firearms are not available in, or connected in any way to, NIBIN.
The Drug Enforcement Administration
The DEA enforces federal laws and regulations related to the growth, production, or distribution of controlled substances. In addition, the DEA seeks to reduce the supply of and demand for illicit drugs, both domestically and internationally. The DEA has approximately 10,500 employees staffing its 21 division offices in the United States and the Caribbean and 80 offices in 58 other countries.
Audit of the Management of Enterprise Architecture and IT Investments
To properly manage its IT investments, the DEA is in the process of developing an Enterprise Architecture and Information Technology Investment Management (ITIM) process. Enterprise Architecture establishes an agencywide roadmap to achieve an agency's mission through optimal performance of its core business processes within an efficient IT environment. ITIM involves implementing processes such as identifying existing IT systems and projects, identifying the business needs for the projects, tracking and overseeing projects' costs and schedules, and selecting new projects rationally.
Because of the importance of the DEA's management of its 38 IT systems, as listed in its current Enterprise Architecture, we performed an audit to determine if the DEA is effectively managing its Enterprise Architecture and IT investments. We concluded that the DEA is effectively pursuing completion of both its Enterprise Architecture and ITIM. Although the Enterprise Architecture is still being developed and the DEA has not established a target date for completing its ITIM processes, the DEA is using many sound practices from both. The DEA will be more fully effective in managing its Enterprise Architecture and IT investments once these processes are completed and have matured.
The OIG made seven recommendations to help the DEA further improve its IT management:
The DEA accepted these recommendations.
During this reporting period, the OIG received 279 complaints involving the DEA. The most common allegations made against DEA employees included misuse of a credit card, job performance failure, and false statements. The OIG opened 12 investigations and referred 19 allegations to the DEA's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for investigation.
At the close of the reporting period, the OIG had 30 open cases of alleged misconduct against DEA employees. The following are examples of cases investigated during this reporting period:
Payments to Informants by the DEA
The OIG is assessing the DEA's compliance with regulations and controls over payments to confidential informants.
The U.S. Attorneys' Offices
U.S. Attorneys serve as the federal government's principal criminal and civil litigators and conduct most of the trial work in which the United States is a party. Under the direction of the Attorney General, 93 U.S. Attorneys are stationed throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. More than 11,600 employees work in those offices and in the EOUSA.
The following is an example of a case involving the USAOs that the OIG investigated during this reporting period: