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US House Oversight Committee continues its investigation into the disastrous “Fast and Furious” operation

It’s a Culture Thing


By —— Bio and Archives--October 20, 2011

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As the US House Oversight Committee continues its investigation into the disastrous “Fast and Furious” operation authorized under the umbrella of the Department of Justice (DOJ) most rank and file Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents are hoping that major steps will be taken to root out the incompetent supervisors that saw fit to pursue such a misguided and illegal operation.

Following a House Oversight Committee hearing that exposed the gross incompetence of Phoenix ATF Supervisor William Newell, his assistant George Gillett, Special Agents David Voth and Deputy Assistant Director William McMahon were all laterally transferred from operational positions and moved into administrative roles at ATF headquarters in Washington, DC. Those familiar with the interworking of ATF believe this was a move to protect the architects of Fast and Furious from losing their jobs and pensions.

This points out a huge difference between the government and the private sector. A similar situation in the private sector would have resulted in those involved being immediately fired. Additionally, the seriousness of the illegal activities of Fast and Furious would have led to a series of arrests and indictments. That didn’t happen at ATF.

ATF is hostage to an ingrained culture that has brought the agency nearly to its knees

ATF is hostage to an ingrained culture that has brought the agency nearly to its knees in the past and will do it again and again if it is not changed. Only Congress can make the changes that are needed and, to date, no one has stepped up to the plate to do the heavy lifting.

The problems plaguing ATF are not uncommon in Federal Agencies, however, ATF is in a rather unique position that tends to draw negative attention other agencies do not receive. The agency’s primary mission is the enforcement of the Nation’s firearm laws. These laws are unpopular and very controversial.

People unhappy with the gun laws tend to focus their anger on ATF. In reality, this is killing the messenger, as the focus should be on the people that make the laws, the Congress. Regardless, many within ATF management have adopted a hunker-down, cover-my-rear attitude. Unfortunately, that type of thinking permeates the management operation of the agency.

There is a distinct, and wide, culture difference between the field agents and their supervisors and headquarters ATF management.

Field agents are mission driven and feel a strong responsibility to protect people from those that use guns for unlawful purposes. They are viewed by local law enforcement as the best Federal agency to cooperate with. The people ATF agents deal with on a day-to-day basis are the worst of the violent criminal element.

In the past, under a strong, mission oriented Director the headquarters operation has demonstrated that it can function in a very positive manner.

However, without that oversight it has become an animal house of self-preservation and personal promotion. Management personnel habitually make false representations to the Congress. Money appropriated by the Congress for specific programs is routinely used for purposes that better suit the wishes and desires of HQ personnel rather than their intended purposes.

When asked by the Congress why a certain program is not meeting expectations the usual line is to blame it on the vendors that supply the agency. Meanwhile, the vendors are consistently told that there is just not enough funding available to meet the requirements of the vendor’s contract.

The legal department is famous for its ability to fabricate cases against agents and retaliate on those that “don’t toe the line.”

Forensic audit of the agency and deep, painstaking Congressional investigation into all headquarters operations and personnel is needed

At first blush it might appear that a strong, mission oriented Director would solve the problem. It would help; there has not been a permanent Director at ATF in six years.

However, a forensic audit of the agency and deep, painstaking Congressional investigation into all headquarters operations and personnel is needed.  Management practices and established procedures within headquarters should be examined and replaced if needed. Those currently in management positions that are found in violation of good practices should be removed.

Accountability must be restored.

Congress has the responsibility to exercise more and rigid oversight over the agency. The ball is in their court.
If you have an interest in reading more regarding ATF go here.


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Jim Ross Lightfoot -- Bio and Archives | Comments

James R. Lightfoot, Lightfoot Strategies served in Congress six terms, starting in 1985 and retiring in 1997. As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Treasury, Postal and General Government (TPS) of Appropriations, he had jurisdiction over 40% of Federal Law Enforcement (Customs, Secret Service, ATF, FLETC, and IRS enforcement).


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