www.CleanUpATF.org is a non-profit organization dedicated to returning integrity, accountability and decency to the management of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE or "ATF").
In recent years, ATF management has become widely and officially known for corruption, self-service, and at times, overt incompetence. Moreover, ATF managers at all levels routinely retaliate or discriminate against employees who make good faith attempts to address significant cases of flagrant abuse, unlawful acts, waste of taxpayer resources, etc. Managers often use the threat or actual imposition of unfounded disciplinary actions, Internal Affairs “investigations”, punitive transfers, and other flagrantly unethical measures to suppress dissension and subvert legitimate complaints about serious abuses.
In the last two years alone, there have been nearly 400 employee complaints. In an organization with only about 5,000 employees, that is a huge drain on resources and adversely impacts the agency's ability to pursue its purported mission of locking up bad guys. Many experienced and skilled field agents spend so much time just trying to cover their rear ends against trivial, bureaucratic internal policies and arbitrary management actions, that they have little time to actually enforce the nation's firearms and other laws.
Recently publicized cases have involved malicious and carefully orchestrated management campaigns to smear, discredit, and professionally destroy agents who have repeatedly risked their lives for ATF and the public, solely in reprisal for the filing of legitimate complaints. In some instances, management has gone so far as to implicitly accuse agents of firebombing their own homes, without the slightest shred of evidence, while refusing to adequately investigate the actual criminal suspects, all for the sole purpose of harassing and cowing ATF’s own people into quiet submission.
The Bureau's leadership has also miserably failed or even deliberately refused to meet its responsibility to protect highly decorated undercover agents from documented threats of murder, rape or other acts of reprisal against themselves and their families by some of the most vicious criminals on the planet.
All of these factors substantially degrade BATFE's ability to accomplish its authorized missions, and constitute an inexcusable misuse of taxpayer resources.
www.CleanUpATF.org Executive Summary
It should be noted that in every case, the employees referenced made every good faith attempt, sometimes far beyond the mere reasonable, to resolve their grievances informally and at the lowest possible level. Every representation herein contained is supported by memoranda, court documents, sworn depositions and internal written communications. It is an unfortunate but undeniable fact that ATF managers at all levels, along with the legal counsel, Internal Affairs staff and other personnel they control, have:
- Systematically given false, misleading and perjured testimony to Congressional bodies, federal "watchdog" and other official investigating agencies, and within numerous judicial proceedings;
- Concealed widespread waste, fraud and other unlawful conduct;
- Overtly abused their lawful powers by improperly using government resources for purposes not authorized or even expressly prohibited by federal statutes, regulations and Bureau policy.
- Repeatedly engaged in a longstanding pattern of unlawful reprisal, retaliation and discrimination against not only their own employees, but even private citizens.
- Routinely escaped any rightful accountability for intentionally harmful and illegal conduct. Senior managers that have already been proven by outside investigatory tribunals to have engaged in flagrantly illegal acts of discrimination or retaliation, have received no disciplinary action whatsoever. In many cases, they have even been promoted or otherwise rewarded.
The aforementioned, both individually and collectively, constitute substantial violations of the following controlling authorities:
- The United States Constitution;
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended);
- The Notification and Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination Act of 2001 ("No FEAR Act");
- Various "Whistleblower" protection statutes;
- Various EEOC protections;
- Mandatory Office of Personnel Management (OPM) policies
- Mandatory Department of Justice policies;
- Mandatory BATFE policies;
The following are examples of the commonplace acts and practices that have motivated this initiative:
- Multiple official findings of discriminatory conduct senior ATF managers that have gone completely undisciplined, or were addressed in a manner inconsistent with the standards applied to the line agents and employees.
- False documents and testimony submitted by, or ignored/supported by ATF Chief Counsel's office to include falsification of evidence and perjury.
- Failure or refusal to comply with the Open Records Act and lawful court-ordered demands for documents and testimony.
- Refusal by ATF Chief Counsel's office to provide truthful, factual information and advice to the Executive staff, thereby necessitating costly, wasteful litigation for employees and settlements for the Bureau.
- Consistent failure or refusal by ATF counsel to report significant violations of policy and law by ATF managers to appropriate authorities (e.g. OPSRO, OIG, etc.), thereby perpetuating unlawful practices.
- Unlawful and unethical use of ATF Internal Affairs (IA) to conceal unethical and criminal conduct by management at all levels. Contrary to Bureau policy, IA routinely refuses to open investigations when senior management officials might be implicated, even when the allegations are clearly corroborated by documented evidence. In rare instances in which an investigation is initiated, IA conducts only the most cursory examination and proactively ignores any evidence that might reflect poorly upon management officials. Overt obstruction of justice and material perjury by senior ATF managers are studiously ignored or "swept under the rug".
- "step out-of-line" in any manner (as viewed by ATF management).
- ATF OPSRO likewise fails or refuses to conduct transparent or thorough investigations for the purpose of covering up gross mismanagement or abuse of authority by senior managers.
- OIG findings, sworn interview and evidence that clearly warrant significant discipline against management officials is commonly suppressed, withheld and even destroyed.
- ATF's Chief Counsel's Office, Internal Affairs, ELRB and senior management routinely facilitate the prompt but unscheduled retirement of managers who are known to have committed significant violations of policy or law. This is done for the sole purpose of shielding them from having to either commit perjury, or give sworn testimony that would be devastating to the Agency.
- ATF's EEOC Directorate blatantly and willfully disregards statutory timelines (often in excess of 300 days), creates artificial delays within the process, and forces unnecessary litigation and massive expenses upon complainants. This, as intended, causes a Bureau-wide chilling effect on any other potential complainants.
- With direct support and guidance from Chief Counsel's Office, the ATF and its EEOC office falsely deny the existence of important evidence until it has been proven to exist by the complainants. Management witnesses are thoroughly interviewed while witnesses identified by the Complainant are ignored, intimidated or otherwise suppressed.
- Reports of Investigation involving legitimate complaints are often deliberately suppressed or improperly documented.
- A 19-year veteran Special Agent made a good-faith inquiry to the agency regarding worker's compensation. ATF instead forced her to retire on disability. Through highly unethical and deceptive tactics including improper use of the Bureau's chaplaincy program, ATF falsely informed the employee that the "Department of Justice would not allow ATF to return her to work". The agency intentionally discriminated against this Special Agent by denying her the opportunity to remain on paid administrative leave as authorized by DOJ policy, pending final resolution of a baseless criminal investigation. However, other employees under similar circumstances both before and afterwards were allowed to remain on paid administrative leave. The agency further interfered with the Special Agent's rights by providing materially false and inaccurate information to OWCP, and obstructed justice by providing materially false information about her case to the Deputy Director.
- Multiple violations related to the handling of validated physical threats by criminals against Special Agents have resulted in extremely expensive and unnecessary litigation at taxpayer's expense. In these instances, the Bureau's documented history of retroactively attempting to destroy the agent's reputation and discredit honorable service were employed through Chief counsel, Personnel Office and Internal Affairs. Attempts to smear outstanding professional contributions and vicious psychological attacks have also been employed. Multiple punitive transfers to create unjustified hardship for agents who dare to complain, have splintered families, caused health complications and wrought financial devastation. In supervisory training courses, ATF Counsel has openly advocated such strategies as an effective way to control employees and discourage complaints.
- In many cases, ATF management has knowingly failed or refused to act, acted in bad faith, or ignored mandatory policies and safety procedures. Whenever threatened agents challenge management, a campaign of personal and professional attacks is invariably launched in order to discredit the complainant. In most cases, no negative documentation of any kind existed prior to the complaints. The devastation to the families is undeniable. The involved Special Agent-in-Charge often ensures that no ATF assets are directed at investigating or protecting a threatened Agent's family. Management has even resorted to thinly-veiled and completely unfounded attempts to name an agent as a "suspect" in pure reprisal for his prior, statutorily-protected "whistleblower" activity.
- Perceived and actual "whistleblower" complainants have suffered withering attacks based on every possible administrative or other fabricated basis. Perceived whistleblowers are denied access to any of the Bureau's mandatory internal remedy processes, resulting in lengthy, expensive and extremely damaging litigation. ATF Chief Counsel's Office has been directly implicated in the providing fabricated representations to Congressman and Administrative Courts. The assigned attorney was quickly and quietly transferred to another agency to make it difficult for him or his supervisors to be held accountable.
- ATF's Counsel's Office, ELRB and HR resources regularly act in concert to attack and destroy Agents that complain for the specific purpose of deterring others who might consider acting against legitimate whistleblower or discrimination practices. Letters challenging mental and emotional stability are common practice. Low evaluations and letters of reprimand not consistent with Bureau practices are used. The agency pursues Psyche evaluations and forced 20 reassignments, unjustified integrity investigations which would normally amount to nothing more than a local management issue if the agent had not been a complainant.
- ATF has repeatedly provided misleading or overtly false testimony in response to Congressional inquiries.
- Even ATF's second-highest management official, Deputy Director Edgar Domenech, filed a whistleblower complaint citing the Bureau propensity for unlawful reprisal against its own, knowing full well that such actions were tantamount to "career suicide".
- In a recent case, an ATF Special Agent with an exemplary record of 20+ years of undercover service, questioned the use of blatantly unlawful wiretaps during an investigation. After his concerns were brushed aside, the agent brought the violations to his supervisor's attention. Over the next year and a half, the Agent and his family were inexplicably transferred no less than 5 times. He was suspended for 3 days, ordered to undergo a psyche evaluation, received 2 letters of reprimand, and ultimately terminated from employment. Protracted litigation ensued, ensuring a much more costly settlement and further waste of taxpayer funds. During the lawsuit, documents requested more than twelve months prior to hearing dates were suddenly turned over by ATF just days before the Plaintiff's response was due, after ATF Counsel had repeatedly (and falsely) denied their existence. In the end, the agent was quietly reinstated as soon as numerous unlawful and unethical practices were uncovered during sworn testimony. It should be noted that not a single significant act of misconduct by this agent had been documented during his entire previous 20+ years of decorated service, until the very night that his complaint was filed with ATF management.
- The Government Mobility Agreement commonly used by ATF in violation of law as a way to punish agents without due process and in most instances, without any reasonable justification. Complainants that challenge unethical or illegal acts by ATF managers are literally threatened with collecting their next paycheck in Fargo, North Dakota or Anchorage, Alaska. This violates the reprisal laws, the "No Fear Act", and the intent of the "good of the Bureau" polices relating to the involuntary relocation of agents. This practice also results in hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary expenditures wasted on purely retaliatory transfers.
- Involuntary assignment to unfavorable positions and job duties is another common management reprisal weapon used to push senior agents into resignation or retirement, and to force compliance by junior agents. Field Division Operations Officers are essential to the conduct of ATF's mission. Nevertheless, management often reassigns individuals who have made complaints to these positions in order otherwise happy and productive senior agents to retire.
- Agents are regularly subjected to gross disparities in scrutiny or surveillance of their performance or work product if they file Whistleblower complaints, grievances or discrimination complaints.
- Internal Affairs is regularly used by ATF to generate "credibility issues" against complainants while ignoring the substantive whistleblower complaints that originally initiated internal affairs involvement. In a recent case, an anonymous letter was sent to the Department of Justice OIG from Las Vegas, Nevada alleging government fraud. waste and abuse. The OIG provided the letter to ATF Internal Affairs so that they could investigate the allegations. However, the primary focus of the IA investigation was to identify the author of the letter. Once ATF identified an Agent that they suspected to be the "whistleblower", he was immediately targeted with vindictive personnel actions ranging from a Letter of Reprimand, to a Notice of Proposed Removal from Federal Service. Eventually, the actual author could not stand the unfair reprisals against his colleague, and came forward. ATF management immediately shifted their attacks to the new target and eventually terminated him from Federal service. He was later reinstated after appealing the removal to the MSPB. Another agent who, in response to a lawful demand for documents, unknowingly provided evidence corroborating the unfairly fired agent's allegations, also became the target of brutal reprisals by ATF management.
- ATF's Wireless Communication Section (WCS) routinely discriminates against its older Telecommunication Specialists by subjecting them to a hostile work environment. In one case, a Telecomm Specialist with a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering and an exemplary record of employment was unjustly fired for alleged "technical incompetence". Another Specialist in his sixties with deteriorated knee joints was deliberately forced by management to attend a radio tower climbing school, in order to (successfully) force him into retirement. On several occasions, specialists' assignments have been deliberately altered so as to create improper hardship and expedite retirement against the will of the employee.
- In addition to unwarranted disciplinary actions and punitive transfers, unsatisfactory annual performance evaluations are arbitrarily used to control and retaliate against employees. Many current Telecomm Specialists transferred to ATF from other agencies under the "Pay Demo" system to achieve the equivalent of a GS-14 salary, and are among the best and brightest in the field. Unfortunately, ATF's WCS management lacks basic leadership skills and instead relies on coercive acts and a hostile work environment to "manage" these valuable assets.
- Numerous officially substantiated allegations against senior managers have gone entirely uninvestigated. One top ATF manager was alleged to have ignored ATF policy and procedure regarding massive amounts of missing government property, and to have certified documents he knew to be false in order to conceal these acts. Another senior manager participated in the concealment of the intentional destruction of a Special Agent's badges in an act of reprisal. He conspired to conceal and failed to report an act of willful and wanton destruction of sensitive government property. Both of these managers remain in the SES program. Senior executive staff members have been directly advised of such abuses and are unwilling or incapable of making the necessary policy changes to prevent ongoing misconduct.
- ATF intentionally ignores EEO laws, procedures and practices. Although the law requires discrimination investigations to be addressed within no more than 180 days, ATF's average investigation time exceeds 300 days. ATF counsel engages in unethical measures to delay and frustrate the process at every turn. These active measures are used in conjunction with malicious and illegal acts of reprisal designed to induce the employee to drop the complaint.
- In BATFE, Whistleblower and discrimination complaints have become synonymous with career suicide, as stated publicly by former Assistant Director, Edgar Domenech in his whistleblower complaint. Even the second most powerful man in ATF felt compelled to author anonymous letters out of fear for his career.
- Senior ATF managers are excused from testifying at hearings, depositions or any other personnel action without ATF counsel present. Management statements are carefully reviewed by Chief Counsel's Office before they submission to internal or external investigators. "Attorney Client" privilege is most often invoked to protect the individual managers, not the Agency.
- Managers are thoroughly prepped and their testimony carefully crafted by ATF Counsel to attempt to conceal or minimize any evidence of wrongdoing. In one case, a SES manager being groomed for a Special Agent-in-Charge position, stated, "I don't know", or "I don't recall" over 100 times during a single sworn deposition. These non-responses were related to direct questions about actions he was personally responsible for, or policies he relied upon to defend his actions against a particular employee. Why would person be elevated to such an important management level if he "cannot recall" or "does not know" basic ATF policies?
- ATF clearly does not recognize just how egregiously wasteful and deeply harmful their ignoring and punishing of legitimate employee concerns really is to the agency's own interests. Multiple Whistleblower and discrimination complaints that could easily have been resolved at a very low level have needlessly escalated to full-blown court battles due solely to the Bureau's almost pathological institutional refusal to acknowledge, let alone effectively address significant errors, abuses, and acts of grotesquely unlawful or unethical conduct on the part of its leadership.
- ATF counsel's office aggressively resists mediation or alternative dispute resolution procedures under the false assumption that their good faith participation might result in a flood of complaints. ATF has irresponsibly expended millions of dollars in damages, court costs, attorney fees, travel funds, and wasted man-hours in misguided attempts to ignore complaints that could have been handled with a hand shake. This reckless and destructive behavior is perpetuated with almost total impunity and without fear of legitimate oversight or intervention.
- On the other hand, the founders of this initiative will happily testify before Congress or meet with ATF's Director without the benefit of counsel and will not invoke their right to the attorney client privilege if the agency heads will do the same.
Moreover, the aforementioned facts and circumstances represent only a generalized synopsis of some of the most egregious and recent abuses of authority. However, the roster of Agents, Inspectors and clerical staff that are willing to provide documents and sworn testimony chronicling the inexcusable violations of public trust herein asserted is far larger than ATF management might suspect. Beyond the obvious violations of law and regulation, this almost surreal institutional pattern of intimidation, coercion, fear, mistrust, and profound lack of accountable transparency, is substantially degrading ATF's capability to effectively perform its operational and strategic duties as a federal law agency.
There are many dedicated and professional managers within ATF who have attempted to act ethically and professionally, however, they are just as likely to suffer the same abuse as the field agents for doing so. Supervisors are transferred to ATF Headquarters, demoted, or their successful careers impeded at the hands of vindictive senior managers. It is unconscionable that dedicated, courageous Agents and Supervisors should be governed by such a hostile and pervasive institutional mandate of fear and mistrust. We, the communicators of this plea for a restoration of sanity, integrity and accountability to BATFE, act with the clear knowledge we will almost certainly suffer further acts of severe reprisal and devastation to our careers.
We do so not simply to frivolously defame or discredit the Bureau (which would be entirely redundant), but to signal that it is long past time for ATF to redirect its resources towards truly making America safer by renouncing its long history of subordinating its critical public safety mission to the arbitrary whims and personal interests of its senior managers.