Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following statement during the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing on “Oversight of the ATF Canine Training Division.”
Chairman Goodlatte: I want to welcome everyone to today’s field hearing in Front Royal, Virginia, located in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. I want to thank Congresswoman Comstock for joining me and I want to thank the Warren County Government Center for hosting this very important hearing on oversight of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Canine Training Center, an integral part of the National Canine Division.
The ATF National Canine Division trains explosives and accelerant detection canines for federal, state, local and international law enforcement and fire investigation agencies. Since 1990, ATF has trained over 900 explosives detection canines, more than 200 accelerant detection canines, and has trained canine teams for 22 international countries. In addition, the training center has imprinted approximately 3,800 Department of Defense military working dogs from March 2009 through December 2017.
Since 2012, the ATF Canine Center has been located in the Sixth District of Virginia; which I have been proud to represent these past 26 years. I have had the opportunity to visit the training center and see first-hand the amazing capabilities of our four-legged friends. I even hosted the dogs at an event in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., to showcase their talents. I have been proud to represent this world class training facility during my tenure as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
These canines are not just serving the ATF. Many of these dogs, trained by the ATF, end up serving with our state and local law enforcement partners. And of course, they serve all of us as citizens. They train alongside their handlers at a facility a few miles down the road from here that we will have the opportunity to visit immediately after this hearing. It is not only our state and local partners that benefit from the center, but our international partners as well. It truly is a world-renowned program; a program that has been very productive and successful throughout the years. In fact, in recent months, ATF-trained canine teams aided in a number of high profile investigations, including the Austin bombings and in the aftermath of the Santa Fe, Texas school shootings.
It is because of the success of this center that I am troubled about the desire of some of my colleagues to transfer the training facility from its home in Front Royal to Huntsville, Alabama. I realize the cynics may claim that I am being territorial, but I firmly believe that moving this center would not only be a colossal waste of taxpayer money, but also put public safety at significant risk.
In 2016, the Senate Appropriations Committee directed ATF to examine the feasibility of moving the canine training and kennel facilities from Front Royal to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. ATF completed a preliminary feasibility study in 2016. The study found that building a comparable canine training and kennel facility at Redstone would cost millions of taxpayer dollars, require intensive talent recruitment for the new facility, and result in the loss of key National Canine Division personnel due to the move. Altogether, the study concluded that the move would substantially disrupt continuity of operations and mission readiness.
Thereafter, ATF commissioned an independent environmental evaluation of the proposed Huntsville site by AECOM Technical Services, Inc.
In November 2017, AECOM provided ATF with an environmental evaluation of the proposed Huntsville kennel site. The study focused on three categories: surface soil assessments, noise evaluation, and air dispersion modeling. After reviewing the findings of the study, ATF concluded that “our experts strongly recommend that the [facility] remain in its current location.”
ATF concluded that the levels of trace explosive contaminants in the soil posed a significant problem for canine performance and reliability. Specifically, ATF stated that the levels of explosive contaminants in the soil “present obstacles that are likely insurmountable to the initial imprinting of the canines to detect explosives and accelerants.” ATF elaborated that “initial imprinting is absolutely essential to ATF’s well-established and internationally-recognized training regimes,” and the contaminants at Redstone Arsenal raise concern that the canine may begin to associate the environmental explosive contaminants with the target odor.
Put simply, you can’t train a bomb-sniffing dog at a place where everything smells like a bomb.
The study also contained a noise evaluation which focused on the effect that the nearby active explosive range finding that “blasting activities at Corkern Range have a clear potential to affect dogs at the proposed kennel site, especially if the dogs are outdoors at the time of the blasting activity.” Pointing out that ATF canines are outdoors for approximately six hours of their eight-hour shift, ATF concluded that keeping the canines indoors during blasting is impractical and therefore the blasting activities could further affect canine training.
Altogether after reviewing the study, costs, and other considerations, ATF concluded “moving the NCD from Front Royal, Virginia to Huntsville, Alabama, would significantly diminish, and perhaps irreparably damage, the canine program and its mission to protect the public and fight violent crime.” At this time, I’d like to ask unanimous consent to place the report by the ATF on the proposed move into the record.
“Irreparable damage” is a cost too high to pay when it comes to the vital public safety duties these canines perform. This facility must remain right here in Front Royal. The proposed move could completely wreck ATF’s ability to produce reliable, explosive-detecting dogs.
Thank you, Deputy Director Brandon, for joining us today to discuss this vital issue. I look forward to your testimony.