Women’s sanitary pads purchased for the federal prison system and coded as body armor? Cable television purchased by the Coast Guard and $179,418 spent by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on copiers, both of which were coded as guns? Veteran’s Affairs procurement of $31,600 in “assorted bread” coded as “Guns, Through 30MM”?
On Wednesday, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform convenes a hearing with the Bureau of Prisons and other agencies regarding their inventory and accounting practices for firearms and ammunition. We salute their efforts. Here are some questions the committee may want to ask:
Why are there $173,433 in women’s jumpers, sanitary pads, sheets, pillowcases, inmate clothes and shoes, and various beauty supplies tagged as body armor in the prison checkbook?
Did the federal prisons really purchase $1.4 million in “military chemical weapons” since 2006? Or how about $541,351 in purchases under the federal uniform accounting code of “1310: Ammunition, over 30MM up to 75MM”? It’s doubtful that the prison system is buying bunker-busting missiles, so who is auditing the auditors?
Just how many errors have the federal administrative agencies made in the reporting of their guns, ammunition and military-style equipment?
Despite the dirty data and accounting mistakes, our organization at OpenTheBooks.com recently released an oversight report titled “The Militarization of America.” It quantified the escalating size, scope and power of 67 nonmilitary federal agencies, which spent $1.48 billion on guns, ammunition and military-style equipment since 2006. We also found that there are now more federal officers with arrest and firearms power (200,000-plus) than U.S. Marines (182,000).
Here are some of the public policy issues that have come to light because of our oversight report:
• Our honorary chairman, former Sen. Tom Coburn, issued a clarion call for an assault weapons ban at the federal administrative agencies after finding special agents at the Internal Revenue Service, Health and Human Services and other agencies with AR15 rifles, long guns, and pump-action and semi-automatic shotguns.
• Who is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) preparing to battle? We found DHS procurement orders since 2004 adding up to 1.7 billion bullets, 452 million hollow-point rounds, and an inventory of 160 million bullets. Yet, in a five-year period, active duty officers only fired 881 rounds from 2008 to 2012.
• Why isn’t the U.S. border secure? Since 1993, the number of border and immigration officers tripled from 20,000 to 60,000, as undocumented entrants also tripled. Since 2006, nearly $600 million was spent on weaponry or was transferred in surplus military gear to immigration, customs and border officers. In 2003, the Coast Guard was also transferred under the command of the Department of Homeland Security.
While there have been improvements in transparency, such as the 2006 Google Your Government Act, sponsored by Mr. Coburn and then-Sen. Barack Obama, getting hard data on federal weaponry and its authorized users was still much too difficult.
For example, official counts of federal officers with arrest and firearms authority compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics haven’t been updated since 2008. This year, a source admitted that even the Department of Justice ignored the voluntary request for update, and more than 80 percent of the agencies didn’t comply with the request, either.
We asked the IRS, Animal Health Inspection Service and even the U.S. Post Office (USPS) for recent gun and ammunition asset inventories and audits. None of the agencies were forthcoming with their gun locker inventories. USPS redacted so much information from their procurement orders that the 400 pages of production are virtually worthless to our oversight efforts.
How much does the federal law enforcement complex across all agencies cost taxpayers? It could be as high as $44 billion. But it’s just a back-of-the-envelope calculation because of a lack of transparency — the salaries of federal law enforcement are not disclosed by the Office of Personal Management.
Citizens should be rightfully concerned about the staggering expense of militarizing the federal bureaucracy. Here’s how we estimated the cost: The EPA spends an average of $216,000 for each of its 200 “special agents” in salary, benefits, training and weaponry each year. Extrapolating the expense across all federal agencies and 200,000 officers yields a potential taxpayer cost of $43 billion.
After grabbing legal power, the feds are amassing firepower. Today, at its hearing, we wish the House Oversight Committee much success holding the agencies accountable. It’s time to institute basic accounting controls and then scale back the federal arsenals.
• Adam Andrzejewski is founder and CEO of OpenTheBooks.com and author of the oversight report, “The Militarization of America.”
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