Merging ATF into FBI is a formula for disaster
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The idea of merging the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) into the FBI has reared its ugly head once again. This idea is wrong in so many ways. As a former chairman of the old Treasury, Postal Service and General Government Subcommittee in the Appropriations Committee, which had jurisdiction over the ATF, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Customs Service, and other federal law enforcement, and as a former police officer, I am speaking from experience.


My father used to tell me, "Son, you can't fix anything until you figure out why it broke." If Congress had been doing its job, the situation within ATF and other federal agencies would not be a problem today.

It's all about accountability. Or, I should say, lack of accountability.

For example, Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaHouse Republicans urge opposition to vaccine patent waiver Republicans need to stop Joe Biden's progressive assault on America Mellman: Biden's smart bipartisan message MORE (R-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyOn The Money: Biden says workers can't turn down job and get benefits | Treasury launches state and local aid | Businesses jump into vax push Grassley criticizes Biden's proposal to provide IRS with B The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Infrastructure, Cheney ouster on deck as Congress returns MORE (R-Iowa) held extensive hearings into the so-called Fast and Furious fiasco. The people responsible for the operation were identified.

And then the deafening sound of silence. Nothing happened. No one got fired. No one indicted for what was identified as criminal action. No oversight hearings into the operation of the ATF. No questioning of ATF management. No one held accountable for anything.

The only result of these hearings was retribution by ATF management against the agents that came forward and identified the people within ATF behind Fast and Furious.

Ladies and gentlemen of the U.S. Congress, one of your sworn, top duties is accountability from all federal agencies to the American people. You have failed us miserably! The ATF is not the only agency with huge internal problems. You would do the country a huge favor if you would put away the entire headline, photo-op grabbing issues for one whole two-year session of Congress and spend your time doing extensive oversight into all agencies and then taking the appropriate actions to correct the issues you uncover. You all would get reelected.

What does accountability have to do with the issue of merging ATF into the FBI?

First, if proper accountability were in place, ATF would not be in trouble, and thus no need to "fix" it.

Second, merging law enforcement agencies into one big super-cop is a formula for disaster. Any president could easily use that type of an agency to forward his or her political agenda. Attempts by Congress to change any of the laws and gain accountability over a huge agency would be in vain. (Take a look at the current IRS and the Environmental Protection Agency as examples.)

Third, law enforcement is a lot like medicine: No one doctor knows everything about the human body. As a result, we have specialists for the eyes, the heart, the stomach, the back and the list goes on. In federal law enforcement, no one agency can do it all. Firearms and explosives, counterfeiting, kidnapping and immigration are all areas of the law that are very specific, complicated and require different methods of enforcement and investigation. That's why we have the ATF, the Secret Services, the FBI, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement as separate agencies charged with the enforcement and investigation of the laws in their field of expertise. It's a whole lot easier to gain accountability over a smaller agency.

Fourth, simply moving the chairs on the deck does not solve any problems. This became a popular practice after 9/11. Moving the various law enforcement agencies around did nothing but create a bloated super-agency with little or no accountability. Thus the issues at ATF, the Secret Service and others.

What was broken prior to 9/11 was a lack of communication and sharing of information between the various federal law enforcement agencies. Fixing the root cause of the problem would have cost millions of dollars less than the deck chair shifting that transpired.

And Congress would have not lost its accountability over federal law enforcement.

Let's not shuffle the deck chairs this time; rather, let's hold the feet of agency management to the fire. That is your responsibility, Congress; step up to the plate and do something constructive.

Lightfoot represented congressional districts in Iowa from 1985 to 1997.