President Barack Obama issued an executive order Friday to provide added protections to employees of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, one of the most scandal-plagued agencies in the federal government in recent years.
President Barack Obama speaks at Millennium Steel Service in Princeton, Ind., Friday, Oct. 3, 2014, to discuss the economy as part of Manufacturing Day. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
The order allows more ATF agents to be converted to the career-employee classification, which would provide civil service protections that make it more difficult to fire such an employee. For an agency that has been accused of going rogue at times, with Operation Fast and Furious and more recently Fearless Distribution, that could be a problem.
The ATF has also stepped up efforts requiring gun shops to get the race and ethnicity information of gun buyers.
"Bottom line is that it’s easier to fire people when they don’t have civil service protections,” Gun Owners of America spokesman Erich Pratt told TheBlaze. “We’d love nothing more than to see a future Ted Cruz or Rand Paul administration fire some of these ATF special agents who are intimidating legal gun dealers.”
Obama’s executive order allows criminal investigators, some who do not currently have civil service protections, to make a transition to a career civil servant.
“I find that conditions of good administration … make necessary an exception to the competitive examination rules for appointment to certain positions in the federal civil service,” the executive order says. “Criminal Investigators of the ATF, who have been appointed under Schedule B, and who have completed three years of fully satisfactory service, may be converted non-competitively to career appointments if they meet qualifications and other requirements established by the director of the Office of Personnel Management.”
National Rifle Association spokesperson Catherine Mortensen told TheBlaze that on the surface the executive order looks like a personnel issue, but said that the NRA is monitoring the matter because, “our level of trust runs thin with this administration.”
The ATF, a division of the Justice Department, spent the last several years consumed with questions about Operation Fast and Furious, in which about 2,000 guns were allowed to flow to Mexican drug trafficking organizations with the intent of tracking the guns. The operation was halted after a gun was found at the murder scene of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona. While no one has been fired at the ATF over the missteps, there have been multiple reports over retaliation against whistle blowers inside the agency.
Last year, ATF agents reportedly engaged in Fearless Distribution, a program in at least four cities in which agents befriended mentally disabled people to bring business to their phony gun store. The agency, under the operation, also opened up undercover gun and drug buying operations in so called safe-zones, such as areas near churches, and allowed juveniles and underage teens to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol.
Pratt pointed out that controversies surrounding the agency go back decades.
“Given that this is an agency that has bathed itself in disgrace, the last thing you want to do is make it harder to fire them and put them in the civil service nightmare system,” Pratt said. “We’d like to see the agency defunded. But if the agency is going to be there, we’d like to see it cleaned up, not keep the people who have caused the problems there locked in.”