The Field is Watching, Mr. Melson
It would appear at first blush that newly-minted ATF Director Kenneth Melson is serious about integrity and accountability. Recent reports indicate that he is very disatisfied with the manner in which business is being conducted at every level within our Bureau.
It is rumored that Melson recently put a number of high-level managers on notice that due to their actions and inability to effectively administer their respective areas of responsibility, they are no longer eligible for promotion. Melson reportedly also told them to either find other positions or get comfortable in their current assignments. Clearly, a non-promotable manager at the Senior Executive Service (SES) level is of limited value to the Bureau and government. Abusive and/or incompetent SACS, ASACs, DADs, and ADs and even notoriously corrupt Attorneys within Chief Counsel’s Office have purportedly been told that their services are no longer needed. And so it would seem that there is at least some across-the-board housecleaning going on within ATF.
Initial indications are that Director Melson is a seasoned professional and does not make kneejerk or uninformed, personal opinion-based decisions. Several managers that have direct, daily contact with him are privately saying that “accountability” is the new order at ATF. To we who take care of the Bureau’s operational business each day, there is valid reason for guarded optimism.
On the other hand, there has been no formal reckoning or rightful accountability regarding the countless improper, abusive, retaliatory, illegal and corrupt actions committed by so many highly placed ATF managers, nor any internal, let alone public acknowledgement thereof. If Melson perpetuates the time-tested ATF shell game of quietly slipping corrupt leaders out the back door, those of us in the field (and the taxpaying public) cannot know whether this is all just the same slimy “good ol’ boy” maneuvering, or a genuine policy aimed at discouraging further misconduct. It should be obvious that ATF’s very survival and ability to successfully conduct its core missions will demand much more than just putting out to pasture some of the bad apples at the top who have been directly responsible for the devastating loss of respect and lack of confidence among its own field personnel, the larger law enforcement community, and the American public.
Moreover, Melson has not yet taken any action to give us stakeholders in the field a legitimate and long overdue voice in the daily operations and future of this Bureau. Accordingly, we once again respectfully ask to be meaningfully included in the process. Mr. Director, are you truly comfortable in relying on the jaded counsel of a handful of desk-jockeys, whose motives have been repeatedly revealed as mostly self-serving, and that have been far removed from the pointed end of the spear for over a decade, in many instances? With few exceptions, the U.S. military does not enact major policy changes without thoroughly vetting them among the ground troops, and we, a much smaller organization with similar challenges and tremendous organic expertise in the field, should not do so either.
Mr. Director, we call upon you to openly acknowledge just how appallingly out-of-control so many of our field and HQ managers have become, lay down the law, and put an unmistakable end to such rampant unprofessionalism. It’s long past time for a "New Coach, New Approach" mandate that isn’t just another hollow platitude. We agents will do our part, provided that it is not just “business as usual”. We encourage you to rapidly enact dramatic, decisive and realistic measures before our battered Bureau suffers further irreparable battle damage.
For example, an online forum, similar to this one in general concept, perhaps with both public and private (employee only) components, managed by the Ombudsman Office, and overseen by a select committee of field personnel selected by the field personnel at large, would be an excellent start. Send a clear cut signal that HQ truly wants to hear about problems in the field and is committed to addressing rather than sweeping them under the rug. Prove to us that honest agents and employees who make good faith efforts to address improper conduct or misuse of public resources will be treated as a valuable resource rather than common criminals. Promote a culture that identifies and resolves substantial issues and “problem children” long before they result in million dollar settlements. Shine the light of accountability on managers that lurk in the shadows while doing more harm than good to our Bureau and the people who are its heart and soul.
Break the chain right here and right now, Mr. Director.