Rep. Issa examining ways to reorganize ATF

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wants to reorganize the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives in the wake of a botched gun-tracking operation.

Issa, as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on Friday laid out several proposals for the beleaguered ATF, including merging it with the FBI.

“The ATF perhaps should be molded completely into the FBI and be done with it rather than this specialization,” said Issa at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.

“And there’s no reason you can’t have a special unit under the FBI. And it is a frustration that I’m getting close to saying, ‘You know, as the reform committee — organizational reform — we may have to do that.’”

Issa criticized the way law enforcement agencies share jurisdiction and partner with each other on operations like Fast and Furious, which the ATF led and had help from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and U.S. attorneys with the Justice Department (DOJ). The ATF falls under the DOJ’s umbrella.

But Issa immediately seemed to back off his initial push to have the FBI absorb the ATF as a cure-all solution, saying that the FBI and its director, Robert Mueller, share some of the blame for the botched gun-tracking operation, which oversaw the sale of thousands of weapons to known and suspected straw buyers for Mexican drug cartels.

“When I talk about reform I’m not going to go forward with something as simple as 'put it in the FBI.' Because understand, Fast and Furious was an FBI failure. So you’ve got problems that go up to the director there too of, how can he have joined?” said Issa.

“The ATF is not a single organization that runs its show. The ATF is always teamed in these other organizations and so … you’ve got a host of other people and then they point at ATF at the end. And that’s why I say that reorganization is inevitable. That reorganization might create a more stable and larger ATF. I just say that we can’t have what we have now, which is no one accountable in these large, joint events.”

Issa’s frustrations with the network of federal law enforcement agencies comes nine months into his investigation of Fast and Furious, which might have contributed to the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

Issa said his investigation is entering into the next phase and that making reforms within the ATF was one of his top priorities.

“On my watch I don’t want to be accused of doing reforms that just kick the can down the road and that includes dealing with this problem of ATF and FBI,” he said.

“If I don’t get this fixed and get the kind of assurances it won’t happen again then I’ll deserve blame.”