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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

March 4, 2010

Statement of Kenneth E. Melson, Deputy Director Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Before the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies

Chairman Mollohan, Congressman Wolf and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 budget request for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). I very much appreciate the Subcommittee’s support of ATF and the interest you have taken in our mission and programs. The men and women of ATF recognize and are grateful for your commitment and contributions to the law enforcement community. I particularly would like to thank the Subcommittee for your support of ATF during the FY 2010 appropriations process; ATF is aware of the competing priorities that the Subcommittee had to balance and appreciates the funding we received.


ATF is dedicated to protecting our Nation from the illicit use of firearms and explosives. We protect our communities from violent crime and terrorism by investigating and preventing the illegal use and trafficking of firearms and the illegal use and improper storage of explosives. We deny organized crime its profits by stopping the illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products. And we protect lives and property by investigating acts of bombing and arson.

Combating violent crime is our specialty. ATF’s regulatory and law enforcement missions are interwoven, providing a comprehensive approach to reducing violent crime, protecting the public and defending national security. The integrated efforts of our special agents, industry operations investigators (IOIs), attorneys, forensic scientists, forensic auditors and administrative professionals enable ATF to effective identify, investigate and recommend for prosecution violators of Federal firearms and explosives laws. Their integrated efforts also ascertain that Federal firearms and explosives licensees and permittees are operating within established laws and regulations.

In pursuit of our mission, ATF actively fosters partnerships with other Federal, State, local, foreign and tribal law enforcement agencies. Such partnerships, which are fundamental to our strategic approach, greatly increase the efficiency and efficacy of all parties involved. We are particularly proud of the outstanding relationship we have developed with local law enforcement agencies throughout the country and will continue to make those relationships even stronger.

Recent Accomplishments

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of our accomplishments over the last fiscal year to illustrate ATF’s invaluable contributions to the cause of public safety, as well as the assistance we provide to our law enforcement partners and the service we provide industry.

In FY 2009, ATF recommended 11,495 criminal cases against 17,677 defendants for prosecution — 3,850 of those cases involve 4,076 defendants engaged in gang related criminal conduct. Of the defendants recommended for prosecution, nearly 62% are previously convicted felons and 84% have prior arrest records.

In addition, in FY 2009, ATF arrested 10,892 defendants, which led 10,630 indictments and 8,489 convictions. As a result, 2,987 defendants were sentenced to prison in FY 2009 received an average sentence of 155.3 months, excluding the 30 defendants who received life sentences and nine who received death sentences.

We initiated criminal investigations in the following specific areas:

  • 18,406 firearms cases, including illegal possession and firearms trafficking;
  • 2,927 arson and explosives cases, including bombing and attempted bombing cases;
  • 129 alcohol and tobacco diversion cases and
  • 26 explosives thefts.

In FY 2009, ATF explosives detection canine teams participated in 625 investigative searches, assisted in 200 search warrants, safeguarded over 28 million spectators at major events, and recovered 178 firearms, more than 6,600 shell casings, 580 explosive devices, and19 homemade explosive devices.

In addition, our analytical, forensic and technical staffs were extremely active in supporting criminal investigations this past fiscal year. The National Tracing Center (NTC) traced more than 343,746 firearms for our agents and our law enforcement partners. Our National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) imaged over 187,283 bullets and casings, which resulted in over 5,358 matches, linking and solving firearms crimes-without these links many of these crimes would have remained unsolved. Our state-of-the-art laboratories, which examine forensic evidence such as ballistics and DNA, as well as reconstruct and test arson scenarios-completed examinations for 3,553 cases. These scientific efforts are crucial to the success of our enforcement mission.

ATF’s regulatory enforcement operations staff — which inspect Federal firearms and explosives licensees (FFLs and FELs) — verify that licensees are in compliance with Federal regulations and help detect and prevent the diversion of firearms and explosives into illegal commerce. In FY 2009, ATF conducted 11,375 compliance inspections of FFLs and 5,745 inspections of FELs. We also processed:

  • 834,328 National Firearms Act (NFA) registrations and/or transfers;
  • 6,931 FFL applications and renewals;
  • 1,121 FEL applications and renewals; and
  • 9,295 import permit applications.

In addition to providing training for our own employees, ATF shares our specialized investigative knowledge and experience through extensive and sophisticated training courses offered to all levels of government, both domestic and foreign. In FY 2009, we provided PSN training for 2,475 Assistant U.S. Attorneys, State and local prosecutors, State and local police officers and sheriffs, and ATF special agents. We provided training for over 4,000 members of the international law enforcement community. We also trained:

  • Approximately 3,700 military personnel in post-blast investigative techniques, including training conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in collaboration with the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization at Fort Irwin, California;
  • More than 900 law enforcement personnel, including 635 State and local investigators and bomb squad personnel, in explosives-related courses, including post-blast investigations;
  • 235 explosives detection canine teams on National Odor Recognition Testing (NORT) and 425 on peroxide-based explosives;
  • 681 personnel in arson-related courses; and
  • U.S. Marshal Court Security Officers on improvised explosive device (IED) familiarization and security.

While the list of ATF activities I have just noted is far from comprehensive, it is intended to provide the Subcommittee with a sampling of the depth and breadth of our operations. Mr. Chairman, with the Subcommittee’s support, we will build upon these accomplishments.

FY 2011 Budget Request

For FY 2011, ATF is requesting $1,162,986,000. This request includes $1,150,850,000 for current services and $12,136,000 for building ATF’s capacity to carry out its law enforcement and regulatory missions. The request would provide 5,145 positions and 5,111 full time equivalents (FTE), of which 5,101 positions and 5,071 FTE are for current services and 44 positions and 40 FTE are for capacity building.

We developed this budget to directly support ATF’s and the Department of Justice’s priorities of detecting, preventing and investigating violent crime and terrorism. The additional funding we are seeking in FY 2011 would annualize positions we received to combat firearms trafficking along the US-Mexican border and provide resources for ATF to fulfill its role of coordinating a unified law enforcement response to national disasters and emergencies.

Annualization of Gunrunner Teams

The additional funding we are requesting to annualize a number of positions would support ATF’s Project Gunrunner. Project Gunrunner is ATF’s strategy to disrupt the illegal flow of firearms across the US-Mexican border and curb the associated violence perpetrated on both sides of the border by Mexican drug traffickers. We accomplish this by using our regulatory authority and investigative expertise to identify the sources of illicitly trafficking firearms and dismantling trafficking networks, many of which extend beyond the border region and traverse the entire United States. Our strategy incorporates indispensible partnerships with other US agencies and the Government of Mexico. As of mid-February, ATF has assigned approximately 190 special agents, 145 IOIs and 25 support staff to Project Gunrunner in the four contiguous southwest border States.

Between fiscal year 2005 and fiscal year 2009, ATF has had significant impact on the trafficking in the Southwest Border States. ATF has recommended 984 cases involving 2,034 defendants for prosecution. To date, 1,397 defendants have been arrested, 1,303 defendants have been indicted, 850 defendants have been convicted, and 636 defendants have been sentenced to an average of 86 months incarceration. Three-hundred and seven of the cases and 881 of the defendants recommended for prosecution involve gang related offenses. Four hundred and ninty-seven cases have charged violations related to the trafficking of an estimated 14,923 firearms. One hundred and fifty-nine of these cases involved gang- related trafficking of over 3,665 firearms. In all investigations, over 6,688 firearms have been seized and are no longer available to violent criminals and gang members.

I would like to note several examples of our successes in disrupting the flow of firearms to Mexico. In December 2008, ATF agents arrested ten individuals involved in a conspiracy to straw purchase firearms in Arizona for the purpose of supplying weapons to the Sinaloan drug cartel in Sonora, Mexico. We believe they were responsible for trafficking approximately 120 firearms, including .50 caliber rifles. The suspects were indicted in February 2009, and subsequently several cooperated and identified the Sinaloan cartel member who headed the conspiracy, Ruben Javier Elense Ruiz, who goes by the name “Rambo.” ATF forwarded Rambo’s fingerprints to the FBI who matched them to prints connected to the murder of a Mexican Federal prosecutor in 2004. In March 2009, Rambo and several other cartel members were arrested in Mexico.

To illustrate the synergy between ATF’s regulatory enforcement operations and criminal investigative responsibilities, I would like to note a case that was initiated after ATF IOIs identified a firearms trafficking scheme through the inspection of a federally licensed gun dealer in Houston in 2007. Using information uncovered by the IOIs during that inspection, ATF agents targeted and interviewed suspected straw purchasers, who were paid $500 per firearm, and ultimately identified the three ring leaders of the trafficking operation. ATF ascertained that after the firearms were purchased in Houston they were transported to Mexico and turned over to the Gulf Cartel. ATF believes that over 330 firearms worth over $367,000 were trafficked over a 15-month period. Eighty-eight of those weapons have been recovered in Mexico and four in Guatemala. The firearms purchased by this organization have been traced to 51 separate criminal incidents in which 18 law enforcement officers and civilians and 37 gunmen have died. Thus far, 16 individuals in this case have been charged with firearms trafficking violations. Thirteen of these individuals have pled guilty and during the week of January 18, 2010, eight were sentenced.

To strengthen ATF’s efforts to combat firearms trafficking along the US-Mexican border, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L.111-5) provided $10 million to ATF for the establishment of Project Gunrunner teams in Las Cruces, NM, El Centro, CA, and McAllen, TX, and to support existing staff at the US consulates at Tijuana and Juarez, Mexico. ATF is requesting $11,815,000 and 37 positions to annualize those resources. The annualization is necessary because the Act did not provide base funding for the salaries of the new special agents assigned to, nor the operation requirements of the three new Project Gunrunner locations. The FY 2011 budget cycle is the first opportunity ATF has had to request annualization of the 37 positions, which include 21 special agents based in the US, four special agents deployed to Mexico, six IOIs, three intelligence research specialists and three investigative assistants. Absent the annualization, ATF will be unable to sustain the three new Gunrunner teams without suffering an $11.8 million operating deficit.

Emergency Support Function #13

ATF is also seeking additional resources to support our responsibilities under the National Response Framework (NRF), which is the Federal strategy for providing a unified national response to natural disasters and acts of terrorism. The NRF provides for 15 “emergency support functions” (ESFs), including ESF #13, which covers public safety and security. More specifically, the mission of ESF #13 is to assist Federal, State, local, tribal and territorial law enforcement agencies when they are overwhelmed by a disaster or terrorist attack. The Department of Justice has appointed ATF as the lead coordinating agency for ESF #13.

As such, ATF has been tasked with managing day-to-day ESF #13 operations that involve planning and coordinating at the national, State and local level in preparation for emergencies. For example, on a daily basis ATF serves as liaison between the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the governors’ offices, State public safety officials and all levels of law enforcement. We also participate in numerous planning sessions and exercises. In addition, we have developed and maintain a “concept of operations” plan and provide information to States on Federal law enforcement resources available during times of emergencies.

When a national emergency occurs, ESF #13 is activated and ATF deploys to the affected area within six hours of notification. On scene, ATF partners with State law enforcement to evaluate the situation in terms of public safety. We also act as a clearing house to match available Federal law enforcement resources with needs of the requesting jurisdictions and work to ensure that those resources are deployed as quickly as possible. While deployed, ESF #13 resources are typically under the administrative and operational control of the law enforcement agency that requested their assistance; however, at the request of the agency we will provide safety and security for responding ESF resources, as well as administrative support. ESF #13 activations have included the 2007 California wildfires, hurricanes Humberto, Dean and Flossie in 2007, hurricanes Bertha, Dolly, Ike and Gustav in 2008, the 2009 Presidential inauguration and the 2009 Red River Floods. ESF #13 personnel have also been involved with planning security for special events such as Super Bowls.

ATF has been responsible for the coordination of ESF #13 for approximately five years. During that time, ATF has funded these efforts from our base budget; we have received no dedicated funds. As ESF #13 has matured and the level of responsibility has increased, we have found that diverting money from our core budget has adversely affected ATF’s other programs. Moreover, the lack of resources, manpower, equipment and training dedicated to ESF #13 hinders our ability to properly develop a foundation for the program. Additional resources would ensure ATF’s ability to immediately provide the American public with the caliber of law enforcement preparation and response expected from the Department of Justice and the Federal government in a time of crisis.

Our FY 2011 request for ESF #13 is $1,228,000, seven positions and three FTE. That includes $1,078,000 for personnel, $34,000 to fund two national training sessions per year, and $116,000 for travel expenses. The personnel are responsible for developing a national logistics program, coordinating logistics during emergencies, coordinating training at the national and field levels, and maintaining computers in the ESF #13 National Coordination Center.


Chairman Mollohan, Congressman Wolf, distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, on behalf of the men and women of ATF, I again thank you and your staffs for your support of our crucial work. With the backing of this Subcommittee ATF can continue to build on our accomplishments, making our Nation even more secure. The funding we have requested for FY 2011, including the annualization of the Gunrunner teams and resources for ESF-13, would constitute an important investment in public safety. We look forward to continue working with you in pursuit of our shared goals.