ATF – Always Think Forfeiture
A very dangerous mindset was revealed recently when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) filed an Invitation for Bids to purchase 2000 Leatherman multi-tools engraved with the words “ATF – Asset Forfeiture” and “Always Think Forfeiture.” (emphasis added)
Imagine you had a job picking up defective widgets and the definition of exactly what constitutes a defect is rather subjective. You have the authority to simply dust off a widget that some might call defective and put it back, or you can pick up a widget that seems to be perfectly good and, by poking and prodding a bit, find some minor discrepancy that you can call a defect and drop that one in your bag. Now imagine that you get paid a bonus and get brownie points based on the value of the widgets you collect and some of the widgets are made of lead while others are made of gold. You’re supposed to be focused on finding and removing the widgets with the worst defects, but do you think you might be tempted to instead focus on the gold widgets? Might you pass over seriously flawed lead widgets in favor of questionably flawed gold widgets?
That’s basically the position the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives puts their agents in when they send them out to enforce firearms laws. While the agency claims that they do not set quotas for their agents’ prosecutions, the agency uses successful prosecutions as the primary measure of their field agents’ performance. Add to that the temptation of asset forfeiture – where the agency gets to keep seized assets and prosecuting agents get bonuses and “atta-boys” based on the value of assets seized – and there is clear potential for conflict of interest and abuse.
Is it possible that government enforcers would target a business or individual specifically because that entity had valuable assets that would be forfeited in a successful prosecution? (And actually a prosecution can be unsuccessful and still result in forfeiture.) If the agency gets to keep forfeited assets, use them to bolster their budget, and reward agents who successfully instigate actions that result in these windfalls, isn’t this creating conflict of interest and literally inviting abuse?
Of course the ATF, like all other government agencies, is only interested in seeing that laws are obeyed and justice is done. They would never seek to grow their agency just for the sake of growth and institutional ego or intentionally look for ways to pad their budget. No doubt their focus in every investigation is always on finding criminal activity, stopping that activity, and bringing the perpetrators to justice. If in that process, it turns out that the criminals have some ill-gotten gains that should be forfeited, it is only right that the agency and agents that successfully brought an end to the criminal enterprise should be rewarded… They’re from the government and they’re here to help.
Update: The original link disappered. You can read the archived bid request and award announcement here.
The contract was awarded to Freedom (sic) Enterprises of Spokane, Washington in the amount of $37,460.00.