ATF from the inside
I've received the attached pdf file (small, 134K) from someone in the know. It details ATF agents' complaints regarding how managers are conducting themselves. Here are a few snippets:
" Field agents have attempted to challenge the un-ethical, and illegal actions of field managers through various means in recent years only to meet with retaliation so destructive it almost inevitably results in the challenges or allegations being withdrawn."
" Fear of ATF leadership has replaced transparency. Lack of trust and the absence of good faith in trying to resolve these issues have caused a growing number of Agents to rely upon legal means to invoke the protections and seek redress. Record numbers of EEOC, OIG, OSC, whistleblower and internal grievances face the new management team. Requests for congressional intervention by Agents across the country..."
"The EEOC complaints over the last 2 years number in the hundreds. The overwhelming percentage of which contain allegations of retaliation. "
" First impressions in the field are that Acting Director Michael Sullivan is a competent and professional leader who possesses the skill to lead the Bureau of ATF&E. However, he continues to act on filtered information from those who have created these problems. These problems and those responsible must be dealt with before the Bureau can restore trust in it management team.
With the appointment of Deputy Director Ronnie Carter and Assistant Director Billy Hoover, the signal was clear. The intent is/was to restore ethical and professional leadership to the Bureau.
Perhaps the problems are too significant to place on the shoulders of 3 men, or maybe the Bureau is beyond repair. Either way, the complaints continue as does the retaliation, abuse of authority and the climbing number of EEOC, OSC, OIG and internal grievance complaints."
Having worked in the bureaucracy, I can see the comment about the incoming director. The guy on top may be good, but he knows only what his assistant directors tell him, and they know only what the guys below them tell them, etc., etc. At each stage of this, information is filtered to remove bad news, protect your unit, protect your buddies, etc.. If you send up info that makes your unit look bad -- that's gonna hurt you when your superior does your yearly evaluation, right? By the end of the filtration, the guy in charge hears nothing but "Everything is being run perfectly, and there are no problems, and anyone who managed to get your ear about problems is a lying sack of offal." Then of course they hunt down the guy who talked. He's not a team player. He makes his bosses look bad. Jack him around, transfer him around, seek out excuses to give him a bad evaluation, maybe see if you can tag him with misconduct (hmmm... did he use his official car for a grocery run?).
The greatest fear of mid-level is that the boss may get unfiltered information. At Interior I was a simple staffer. Even my secretary didn't work for me -- she reported, like me, to my boss. Yet one day we received written orders that if the Secretary of Interior called us to ask for data on a legal case, we were to refuse to talk to him and tell him to go thru channels. (The order was given, and stuck, because our ultimate boss had in fact better White House connection than the Secretary. Our ultimate boss was a good guy, not a bureaucrat, so I'd wager the mid-level folks had gone to him with horror stories about the Sec. becoming a loose cannon if he got real data, and sold him on the idea).
[UPDATE in light of comment: I did start under Watt, in '82, but the Secretary under which this happened was Manny Lujan. I forget the Solicitor's name, but he was a good one, in this case I'd assume spun by mid-level management. The full story: the bean-counters, the admin people, came up with the idea of a litigation book, in which each case in which we were involved would have one page, no more and no less. The thought we were involved in a few hundred cases. It turned out to be many thousands. Sent by, in those days, a 1200 baud modem. The first try locked up the mainframe for a solid day. Afterwards, each office had to send them in by floppy, sent overnight. Then someone in HQ had to review them lest the horrific sin, a typo, be found. But our corrections didn't go back to the author, so next month would have the same typos...
Anyway, at the bottom of each page was " For further information contact: John Smith, 208-0124." A bureaucrat knew that mean John Smith was handling the matter, kindly do not think you can contact him, you go thru channels. Lujan, who was a nice guy, didn't understand that, actually read the briefing books -- by now a set of about six big three-ring binders -- and calling people. Hence all the uproar. He was getting raw data, from someone who actually knew what was going on!
In those days, we called ourselves OPs, Omnipotent Peons.]
If I was a cabinet secretary, and a member of the Department said something like "you have to get information through normal channels", I would want to know who had issued such an order.
Then I would fire that person.
If the President intervened in the firing, I would tender my resignation, and suggest he put that man in charge, since he apparently is trusted more than I am.
You either run your department, or you do not. People who are insubordinate should be punished. Especially mid-level managers and top level subordinates.
Posted by: Kristopher at September 30, 2007 03:54 PM
David isn't kidding, although it sounds like his Secretary was Watt. I am not surprised that the "good guys" didn't want him to know everything. Ha ha!
It really is like that in federal agencies. What you have to understand is that with principles like yours, you would not get to be the Secretary. Before you are ever appointed to a position like that, you have to have gone through a years long vetting process in which you will have to have proven that you are a team player. Consider it as something like what a person goes through to become a "Made Guy" in the Mob.
And the political appointee class really is kind of like the people involved in organized crime - in both political parties. When your party is in the White House or in control of the Congress, you and your cronies have the jobs, the influence, control of the committees, and the contacts. The money flows from all of that.
In my agency, we call the political appointee class "reptiles." That is because when one reptile meets another reptile, he only has one thought: "Am I big enough to eat him or is he big enough to eat me?" The bigger reptile gets what he wants or else the little reptile gets eaten. For what it is worth, we call ourselves "weebees." As in "we be here when you arrive, and we be here when you leave."
The political appointee class considers us career staff to be "furniture." They can move us around, they can throw us out if we get too ugly, etc. The game is to try and get unseemly decisions signed off on by career people. That way, if the shit hits the fan, the reptiles can say the careers backed the plan. Our goal, on the other hand, is to never sign off on anything that might even remotely go south because we don't want to be the sacrificial lamb. Sometimes, when a weebee refuses to surname a risky course of action that some big reptile really wants, things can get a little tense. The skilled weebee tries to get his immediate reptiles on the hook with him.
Posted by: Letalis Maximus, Esq. at September 30, 2007 07:23 PM
This crap is almost crazy enough to get me to start thinking about voting LP
Posted by: Sebastian at September 30, 2007 09:15 PM
Rapists, murderers, child molesters are all thought more highly of in our society than those designated "not team players". There is always someone, somewhere willing to forgive the former, but nobody ever forgives or quits punishing the latter.
That is exactly the reason God invented violence.
Posted by: straightarrow at September 30, 2007 10:40 PM
The situation does explain a lot of the recent court cases, and prosecutions coming from ATF.
How do you fix a Federal Law enforcement agency that doesn't want to be fixed, or that Congress doesn't want anybody fixing?
Unfortunately, this particular blog presents more questions than answers.
What can anybody do to stop this now "self proclaimed" out of control agency?
Historic Arms LLC
Posted by: Len Savage at October 1, 2007 05:09 AM
Setting aside normal bureaucratic pissing and moaning, I wasn't sure how to read this.
Do we have generally anti-gun field agents vs generally pro-legal-gun superiors, or is it the other way around? Frustrated field agents may or may not be a good thing.
Posted by: PN NJ at October 1, 2007 06:38 AM
Len, who has done much courageous work on these issues, has a point. The fact is that no bureaucracy will ever truly reform itself. Inertia and the instinct for institutional self-preservation are too strong.
The Congress has repeatedly shown that it is perfectly happy with the way things are at the BATFE. Getting tough on a law enforcement agency can too easily be spun by your next election opponent as you being "soft on crime."
Because of the separation of powers, courts are very reluctant to get involved. In fact, the courts lack jurisdiction to get involved in the day to day management of administrative agencies.
Besides, many of the people who complain about BATFE and FBI abuses are criminals, or at least criminal defendants, right? Who cares about them?
The offices of the United States Attorney Office are usually headed by somebody who wants to be the next Governor of, or Senator from, that state. Nobody ever got elected even dog catcher by up-setting the apple cart. Machiavelli teaches us that there is no course of action that is more fraught with risk, more uncertain in its outcome, than to try to bring about a change in the established order of things.
Posted by: Letalis Maximus, Esq. at October 1, 2007 10:54 AM
I guess whats true of biology is also true of bureaucracy: slime grows in dark corners where the cleansing rain never reaches.
Sometimes, things are just so desparately broken that they must be dismantled, and their parts scattered.
Engineering tells us that there is nothing more difficult, uncertain or unpredictable than to attempt to alter the functioning of a running system. The task is so difficult that the accepted practice is to effect a full shutdown and restart between iteration, or if the system is critical, to bring up a parallel system before shutting down the broken one.
This would be my suggestion. By keeping the malfunctioning machine running, you ensure that no bad parts will creep into the new machine.
Of course, it all means that you have to pay for two machines, and bureacracies seem to have ways to prevent their demise.
Posted by: geekWithA.45 at October 1, 2007 03:52 PM
Abolish the BATF, problem solved.
Posted by: Mike at October 3, 2007 08:41 AM
Anyone interested in why burecracies not only do not work, but in fact make things worse, might want to Google the term 'Public Choice' and 'James Bucannan'. Bucannan won a Nobel in economics. Bucannan said that if bureacracies solve the problem, they are out of a job. If the problem grows, the bureacracies need more workers. Present workers get promotions overseeing new workers. The Bureacracies get more money, power and prestige. Rinse, lather, repete.
Posted by: Paul from Florida at October 3, 2007 09:49 AM
Google: Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracies
Posted by: RL at October 3, 2007 10:43 AM
Let me see:
Alcohol: protect government revenues and prevent competition from unregulated producers.
Tobacco: protect government revenues and prevent competition from unregulated producers.
Firearms: harass legal fire arms distributors.
Yep. Unique mission and skills. You have to wonder how we ever got along without them.
Posted by: M. Simon at October 3, 2007 12:29 PM
M. Simon: Humans never have gotten along without them. The subjects of "regulation" may have been different at different times in history, but the game has always been the same: try to use government (even when they were only tribal governments) to keep those in power in power, protect the property of those who have it, and make sure the "governed" stay in line.
In the main, it works. For a while. But few, if any, societies or political systems du jour have ever lasted and remained unchanged for more than, say, 1000 years (most didn't make it that far). What makes anyone think the ones we have now will do any better?
Posted by: Letalis Maximus, Esq. at October 3, 2007 01:02 PM
How is any of this news? How is any of your bitching useful?
Posted by: Lee at October 3, 2007 03:07 PM
Well Lee, opinions vary.
Posted by: Letalis Maximus, Esq. at October 3, 2007 04:24 PM
Talked to my rep at the distributor I mostly use. He told me he had just had a long conversation with a dealer who had just undergone a field audit by ATF. The ATF agent had had the balls to tell the dealer that his job (the agent's) was to reduce the number of FFL's from the current 45K to between 1500 & 2000.
What an agency!
Posted by: AnFFL at October 3, 2007 11:40 PM
I don't see what all the fuss is about. There's no ethical way to enforce an unethical law, other than to ignore it entirely.
Even if the layers of management were truthful with their superiors, the result is still the enforcement of an unconstitutional law, which accomplishes disarmament by first taking control of every sales transaction in a private business, and then by choking off the supply of arms to the people.
We can abolish the BATFE, but some other newly-named body with take over the enforcement of the NFA '34 and GCA '68.
Posted by: TJH at October 4, 2007 09:55 PM
How lon befor we the people get tired of the uncontrolled bullies in black?
Today America doesn't have the balls to stand up to Nazi style tyrrany.
Posted by: D M at October 12, 2007 12:09 PM