Obama won’t nominate replacement heads for ATF, US Marshals

The interim leaders of the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) will stay in their posts through the end of the Obama administration next year, the Justice Department said Monday.

Neither U.S. Marshals Service Acting Director David Harlow nor interim ATF head Thomas Brandon will be submitted by the White House for Senate confirmation to lead their respective agencies, the Justice Department indicated, potentially frustrating lawmakers seeking to exercise their role as overseers of the executive branch. 

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Harlow, who became acting director of the U.S. Marshals in July, will have his title officially expire on Feb. 20. From that point through the end of President Obama’s time in office, he will continue to lead the agency as its deputy director.

Brandon, meanwhile, took the helm of the ATF in April, after serving as deputy director since 2011. His role as acting director expired in October, but the White House has no plans to nominate a replacement, the Justice Department said, leaving him as the top-ranking agency official.

The administration's decision not to submit either of their names for Senate confirmation appears to be recognition of the tough political winds facing leaders of the two law enforcement agencies, especially as scrutiny ramps up in the months ahead of next year's presidential election.

Both Harlow and Brandon have decades of experience within their agencies, and have slowly risen through the ranks.

Together, they “have demonstrated themselves to be outstanding public servants and extraordinary partners in the work of building a stronger, safer nation,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement announcing the decision not to seek Senate-confirmed replacements.

Both men began leading their respective agencies earlier this year, following separate controversies that helped push their predecessors out of office.

Former U.S. Marshals Service Director Stacia Hylton announced her resignation in June, following heightened scrutiny over her agency’s use of secret cellphone-tracking technology and suspected misconduct in hiring and use of funds. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) had launched an investigation into the agency’s possible abuse, which has continued after Hylton’s decision to step down.

At the ATF, former Director B. Todd Jones was the agency’s first ever leader to receive Senate confirmation.

However, he stepped down in March, following criticism about the ATF’s proposal to ban certain types of armor-piecing bullets used in some assault rifles. The ATF dropped that plan shortly before Jones announced his resignation.