Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) and other House Republicans are proposing steps to take heavy weaponry out of the hands of federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whose Office of Inspector General has put out a bid to buy submachine guns.
Stewart's Regulatory Agency De-militarization Act looks to scale back a 2002 law that gave most Offices of Inspector General the authority to carry weapons and arrest people. But Stewart said that is prompting agencies to develop "SWAT-like" teams to handle situations that should be reserved for law enforcement agencies.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General has put in an order for submachine guns. That has Republicans looking to demilitarize the government. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Christian Gooden)
Stewart noted that last May, USDA's OIG put out a bid to buy submachine guns. The solicitation said the OIG is looking for a very specific type of weapon:
"Submachine guns, .40 Cal. S&W, ambidextrous safety, semi-automatic or 2 shot burts trigger group, Tritium night sights for front and rear, rails for attachment of flashlight (front under fore grip) and scope (top rear), stock-collapsilbe or folding, magazine - 30 rd. capacity, sling, light weight, and oversized trigger guard for gloved operation."
"I understand that federal agents must be capable of protecting themselves," Stewart said Monday. "But what we have observed goes far beyond providing necessary protection."
Stewart noted that the Food and Drug Agency and the Department of Education also have law enforcement teams to conduct raids, and said this shows the government has gone too far.
As examples, Stewart noted that in 2010, armed FDA officers raided a grocery store suspected of using raw milk. In 2011, the Department of Education's OIG forcibly entered the home of a man suspected of student aid fraud.
In addition, Environmental Protection Agency officers in 2013 raised an Alaska mining operation suspected of violating the Clean Water Act.
"When there are genuinely dangerous situations involving federal law, that's the job of the Department of Justice, not regulatory agencies like the FDA or the Department of Education," he added. "Not only is it overkill, but having these highly-armed units within dozens of agencies is duplicative, costly, heavy handed, dangerous and destroys any sense of trust between citizens and the federal government."
Stewart's bill would repeal the 2002 grant of authority to Offices of Inspectors General, which was done under the Homeland Security Act.
It would also prohibit federal agencies from buying machine guns, grenades and other weapons, except for agencies like the FBI and U.S. Marshals that have used these weapons.
The bill would also require the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress on all federal agencies that are undertaking military training and using weapons.
"The militarization of agencies is only a symptom of a much deeper and more troubling problem within Washington – that the federal government no longer trusts the American people," Stewart said. "When all of us feel that we are no longer seen as citizens but as potential dangerous suspects – a relationship of trust is impossible.
"I'm working to restore and rebuild trust – beginning with this effort to defund paramilitary capabilities within federal regulatory agencies."