The ATF’s inadequate record-keeping policies creates a risk of ammunition, explosives and less-lethal devices such as smoke canisters being lost or stolen without the bureau knowing, according to a report released Monday by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
In fact, the poor record-keeping has already resulted in 23 firearms issued to agents being either lost or stolen between 2014 and 2017, the inspector general reported.
A total of 26 weapons were reported lost, stolen or missing, although three of them disappeared during shipment and thus were not the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ fault, the inspector general said. One of those three weapons was used in a crime.
Of the 26 missing firearms, 15 would eventually be recovered, according to the report.
However, that number of guns lost during that three-year period actually represents a “substantial improvement” over what a similar report uncovered in 2008, said Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector-general.
Marino Vidoli, assistant director of office field operations for the ATF, said in a letter to Mr. Horowitz that the bureau concurs with his recommendations
“We welcome OIG’s constructive comments,” Mr. Vidoli wrote.
An ATF spokeswoman said the bureau would have no comment beyond Mr. Vidoli’s letter.
A survey of 13 ATF field offices found inconsistent or lacking records for munitions and explosives, and also found mixing different types of ammunition on tracking records, the report said.
The field offices underestimated total ammunition by nearly 31,000 rounds in just those 13 office — a number likely many times greater nationwide across the ATF’s roughly 275 field offices, the report said.
Mr. Horowitz said the lack of proper record-keeping, despite the lower number of missing guns, is still troubling because audits in 2002 and 2008 raised similar concerns that led to new ATF storage policies.
“Our findings are particularly concerning because prior audits identified similar issues and recommended corrective actions,” he said.
The ATF field offices surveyed were not following ammunition storage protocols, the report said. Specifically, six ATF locations were missing ammunition records from periods ranging between 15 and 38 months over the past four years. The Nashville field office did not begin using the required ammunition records until OIG investigators asked for copies before their site visit.
Furthermore, 11 of the 13 ATF sites audited found that officials had not consistently documented additions or withdrawals on ammunition records. For example, the Cheyenne, Wyoming, office cataloged 1,800 rounds of 5.56-caliber rifle ammunition on July 7, 2014. The next entry, dated Oct. 1, 2014, shows a balance of 900 rounds, but no records documented what happened to the other 900 rounds of ammunition.
The inspector general blamed the inventory discrepancy on misinterpretation of ATF policy. For example, field office officials said some of the inventory discrepancies occurred because the ATF requires offices to only account for full cases of ammunition. Thus, once a case is opened, the entire case is removed from the records regardless of how many rounds are in that case. But the inspector general said the requirement to count full cases of ammunition applies only to biannual ATF-wide property inventories.
Although the inspector general found that the ATF had strong physical control of its explosives, it identified two types of explosives at the bureau’s National Center for Explosive Training and Research that had incorrect balances, according to the report. The discrepancies were because ATF officials relied upon the quantities handwritten on the outside of the explosive box rather than the counting the actual amount inside.
“As a result, ATF cannot provide evidence that the explosives were not lost or stolen either prior to or after the donated explosives were received,” the report said.
Similar discrepancies were found with the ATF’s less-lethal projections. KO1 baton rounds, beanbag rounds and smoke canisters were among the inventories found to be inaccurate.
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at email@example.com.
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