2141 Rayburn House Office Building
Statement of Bob Goodlatte Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary
I want to thank Chairman Sensenbrenner for holding today’s hearing on “the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ use of storefront operations.”
Last year, after a series of articles published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel outlining the problems associated with ATF’s failed storefront operation in Milwaukee known as Fearless Distributers, I along with Chairmen Issa and Sensenbrenner and Senator Grassley drafted a letter to ATF Director B. Todd Jones. In that letter, we asked the Director to reveal the details of the flawed operation. In response to that inquiry, ATF officials provided a briefing to Congressional staff and Members on April 15, 2013. Additionally, the Department of Justice provided a written response on April 30, 2013.
In the response from the Department of Justice, they acknowledge that Director Jones is ultimately responsible for all ATF Operations, yet claim he was not aware of this operation, which began four months after he assumed his duties at ATF, until January of 2013 – a full year after it began. Throughout the duration of Operation Fearless, Director Jones had opportunities to be made aware of the systemic problems afflicting the operation in Milwaukee. We have heard Chairman Sensenbrenner outline the numerous issues with Operation Fearless, so there is no need to recount them here.
What I would like to find out is at what point does the ATF believe the Director should become aware of such a flawed operation? One would think that the theft of three ATF firearms, including a fully automatic rifle, would trigger a reaction from the Director. But, even if that somehow failed to get his attention, the burglary of an undercover storefront where nearly $40,000 in merchandise was stolen would surely rise to the level of the Director’s office. Well, one would think so, but according to the response from the Department of Justice, Director Jones was not made aware of “the serious questions about the manner in which Operation Fearless was conducted [until] he was informed that a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had inquired about the operation.” I believe this calls into question either the information that Director Jones’ subordinates are giving him or the level of involvement to which Director Jones is willing to engage. I don’t expect Director Jones to be involved in the minute details of every operation being run by the ATF. However, when issues such as these arise, I expect swift and immediate action to take place.
Perhaps equally as disturbing as the lack of executive oversight of this flawed operation is the lack of candor that ATF exhibited when briefing Congress on Operation Fearless last April. The information ATF conveyed regarding Operation Fearless left the impression that the problems were an isolated incident. However, according to another Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article in December of 2013, the problems facing the storefront operation in Milwaukee were not isolated. In fact, at around the same time Operation Fearless was being conducted, there were five other flawed storefront operations taking place in Portland, Oregon; Wichita, Kansas; Pensacola, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; and Albuquerque, New Mexico. In an almost identical fashion, each of these operations suffered from a lack of supervision and control. Just last week, the Department of Justice’s Inspector General announced that it will initiate an investigation that will examine the “systemic deficiencies” of these storefront operations.
Like many, I question whether these operations attracted more crime than they prevented. I look forward to hearing from today’s witness and I am committed to getting to the bottom of these serious problems and ensuring that they do not happen again.