Semiannual Report to Congress

October 1, 2004–March 31, 2005
Office of the Inspector General

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

ATF logo

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 and support 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, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. Foreign offices are located in Mexico, Canada, Colombia, and France.

Reports Issued

Implementation of the Safe Explosives Act

The OIG examined the ATF’s implementation of the provisions of the Safe Explosives Act, which mandated more frequent inspections of federal explosives licensees and expanded the number of categories of individuals who are prohibited from holding explosives licenses or from possessing explosives as part of their job. Under the Safe Explosives Act, thorough background checks are required prior to granting or denying an individual the authority to access or possess explosives.

The OIG review focused on the ATF’s explosives licensing process and its handling of background checks on individuals who seek authorization to handle or possess explosives. We also reviewed the appeals process for employees who are not granted authority to access explosives, the enforcement of the requirement for licensees to notify the ATF of new employees who will have access to explosives, the ATF’s preparation for establishing a separate National Explosives Licensing Center, and its plan to collect and analyze samples of explosives as permitted under the Safe Explosives Act. The OIG review found that the ATF failed to request FBI background checks on many employees who sought authorization to handle or possess explosives. In addition, the ATF frequently failed to make final determinations on employees who sought authorization based on the results of FBI background checks and information from other sources. When FBI background checks uncovered potentially prohibiting factors, the ATF did not consistently act upon this information and, as a result, allowed more than half the individuals identified by the FBI as possible prohibited persons to have continuing authorization to access explosives.

We also found that the ATF did not consistently complete background checks on individuals for whom the FBI could not complete a background check, mainly due to the FBI’s inability to confirm an apparent prohibiting factor. The OIG review also determined that the ATF does not have an enforcement plan in place to deal with the many explosives licensees who have not reported the hiring of new employees who have access to explosives as part of their job. Finally, we found that the ATF’s management information system used to support the licensing and clearance processes has serious deficiencies in its structure, utility, and data accuracy.

The OIG made 10 recommendations to help the ATF improve its implementation of the Safe Explosives Act and more effectively regulate explosives within the United States. The recommendations focused on reducing the potential for a prohibited person to have authority to access explosives, improving the consistency of the ATF’s oversight activities, completing the establishment of a National Explosives Licensing Center, and implementing a process for collecting and cataloging explosives at the ATF’s National Laboratory. The ATF concurred with six of the recommendations. We currently are working with ATF management to satisfy the four unresolved recommendations.


The following is an example of a case involving the ATF that the OIG investigated:

  • In our March 2004 Semiannual Report to Congress, we reported on a case in which an ATF resident agent in charge (RAC) assigned to the ATF’s Dallas Field Office was arrested on charges of theft of government property. An investigation by the OIG’s Dallas Field Office revealed that, beginning in October 1996 and continuing until May 2003, the RAC submitted 38 forged and fraudulent vouchers and received approximately $40,750 in reimbursements for alleged payments to confidential informants. During this reporting period, the former RAC pled guilty and was sentenced to two years’ probation, of which six months will be served under terms of home confinement. The RAC resigned from the ATF and made full restitution.

Ongoing Work

The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network

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 casings when firearms are discharged. The OIG is reviewing whether NIBIN has been fully deployed and 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.

The ATF’s Disciplinary System

The OIG is conducting a series of reviews of disciplinary systems within the Department. Reviews of the USMS, DEA, and BOP systems already have been completed. Currently, the OIG is assessing the ATF’s disciplinary system; reviewing whether the process produces timely, consistent, and thorough misconduct investigations; and whether the penalties imposed are timely, consistent, and reasonable.

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