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Border & immigration

ATF border gunrunning program has flaws, says Inspector General

This story was originally published by ProPublica.

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Last week, the Justice Department patted itself on the back for successes in Project Gunrunner – a program that aims to stem the illegal gun trade on the southwest border of the country. “Justice Department Announces Success in Battle Against Firearms Trafficking and Recovery Act Funds to Build on Project Gunrunner,” crowed a press release.

But just a few days later, a report from the Office of the Inspector General shows that the program, funded in part by the stimulus, isn’t using some of its money wisely.

Project Gunrunner, which is an initiative of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has a shortage of Spanish-speaking employees, needs better assessment programs, and plans to open two branches in locations that don’t have serious problems with firearms trafficking or Mexican cartels, according to the report. In response, the bureau agreed with some of the critiques (like the need for Spanish speakers) and rejected others (like the opinion on new bureau placement). The bureau said the inspector general’s report is wrong in finding that two of four new locations – those proposed for Las Cruces and Roswell in New Mexico – aren’t needed, because those are strategic locations for addressing “border-related violence.”

There were some high points too. The inspector general’s report lauds the project for its plans for expansion (including new bureaus where it believes they are actually needed), and says its staffing model is adequate.

Project Gunrunner received $10 million in stimulus funds, and $11.9 million in fiscal 2009 appropriations and supplemental funding.

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Inspector General's report

Download and read Interim review of ATF's Project Gunrunner  

Justice Dep't press release

Justice Department Announces Success in Battle Against Firearms Trafficking and Recovery Act Funds to Build on Project Gunrunner

HOUSTON, Oct. 1 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Acting Director Kenneth E. Melson today announced the results of ATF's Gun Runner Impact Team (GRIT) initiative, a 120-day deployment of ATF resources to the Houston Field Division to disrupt illegal firearms trafficking by Mexican drug cartels. The Justice Department officials also outlined the $10 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds that have been allocated to support the initiative going forward.

GRIT was developed to aggressively target and disrupt groups and organizations responsible for trafficking firearms to Mexico. The GRIT initiative was a component of Project Gunner, ATF's comprehensive firearms trafficking strategy along the Southwest Border.

"The Department of Justice has pledged its unconditional commitment to better protect the Southwest Border with initiatives such as Project Gunrunner, by targeting the source of the violence -- the illegal firearms traffickers," said Ogden. "The Department of Justice is using the vital funding from the Recovery Act to continue to build an infrastructure to combat violent crime and firearms trafficking along our southwest border as part of Project Gunrunner."

"This concentration of additional personnel accomplished more in four months than we were able to achieve in almost three years in some areas along the border," said Melson. "The temporary deployment of veteran ATF special agents and industry operations investigators (IOIs) to the Houston Field Division has made enormous inroads into stemming the firearms-related violent crime in the United States and along the Mexican border. We have begun to flush out firearms trafficking schemes and routes, producing tangible results in the form of open investigations, arrests, seizures and criminal case referrals."

The GRIT initiative brought 100 experienced ATF personnel from around the country to southern Texas. The special agents investigated more than 1,000 criminal leads and seized more than 440 illegal firearms, 141,440 rounds of ammunition, $165,000 in U.S. currency, 1,500 pounds of marijuana, and additional drugs and explosive devices. The IOIs conducted nearly 1,100 federal firearms licensee compliance inspections involving 70,000 firearms and resulting in 440 violations.

ATF's GRIT special agents opened 276 federal firearms trafficking-related criminal cases in just four months.

ATF received $10 million through the Recovery Act to continue to build an infrastructure to further the accomplishments of Project Gunrunner. As part of the $10 million, ATF is hiring 25 new special agents, six industry operations investigators, three intelligence research specialists and three investigative analysts. The funding will establish three permanent field offices, dedicated to firearms trafficking investigations, in McAllen, Texas; El Centro, Calif.; and Las Cruces, N.M.; and a satellite office in Roswell, N.M.

For more information on Project Gunrunner or other ATF programs, please visit www.atf.gov.

SOURCE Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives