Former ATF Employee Blows Whistle On Alleged Agency Fraud

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Many administrative employees of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are drawing bigger paychecks than they’re allowed by law, at least according to a whistleblower who’s come forward with details of fraud and abuse within the agency. CBS News was the first to report on the allegations by a now-former employee, who says he was dismissed from his job after alerting his superiors to the wrongdoing.

The whistleblower said some in administrative jobs at the agency were paid a special bonus known as law enforcement availability pay, or LEAP, even though they did not qualify. Government regulations stipulate the bonus is reserved for “criminal investigators” who are on call and expected to work unscheduled, additional hours.

The whistleblower, named Joe, who asked to be disguised and for his last name not to be used, told CBS News he noticed problems at the ATF almost immediately after he began working there in 2016 as an information specialist in the Human Resources department.

“If you were functioning in an administrative capacity, you don’t qualify for the pay. So you’re not supposed to get it,” he said. “A lot of people were getting it.”

The pay bump was 25%, he said.

“So, if you were making $100,000 and you got LEAP, you would get $125,000,” he said.

“Joe” says that after he informed his supervisors about what he’d discovered, his employee evaluations suddenly took a dip, with performance reviews that regularly found the whistleblower was “fully successful” in performing his job duties turning into evaluations that found he was only “minimally successful” in his role. In the summer of 2020, Joe was let go because of “unacceptable performance.”

I suppose this could just be a case of an angry ex-employee lashing out after losing his job, but it sounds like there’s plenty of evidence to back up his claims.

Last year, a lawyer for the Office of Special Counsel said the investigative body found “a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing.”

An Office of Personnel Management audit concluded at least 94 employees were inappropriately classified. The office “suspended” the ATF’s ability to create certain jobs for “no less than six months,” saying the bureau may have engaged in “prohibited personnel practices.”

“If it’s true, then it’s a very significant amount of wasted tax dollars,” said former Senate investigator Jason Foster, who has spent his career supporting whistleblowers and reviewed CBS News’ findings. “It could be a waste of hundreds of millions of dollars if the same thing were happening throughout government.”

Four federal agencies involved in Joe’s case declined to comment because of the ongoing investigation. An email from the Office of Special Counsel reviewed by CBS News said the final report is delayed, citing “broad implications” for the ATF.

I’m not sure why the “broad implications” for the ATF supersede the public’s right to know about wrongdoing and misdeeds within the agency. That sounds more like an attempt to cover up the fraud and abuse, or at least brush it under the rug. This report needs to be released ASAP, and let the chips fall where they may.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Biden administration tries to spin these allegations as a reason why the ATF needs a permanent director; someone who could keep an eye out for misdeeds like padding payroll. And they would have a point were it not for the fact that Biden nominated an anti-gun activist intent on weaponizing the agency against the firearms industry instead of a watchdog interested in internal reforms.

The Biden administration is hoping to double the ATF’s budget over the next five years, but before a single penny is allocated to the agency there needs to be a full accounting of the fraud and abuse that was uncovered by the Office of Special Counsel. It sounds to me like the ATF is wasting an awful lot of taxpayer money, and that widespread abuse shouldn’t be rewarded by handing over even more funds to the agency. Now that “Joe” has blown the whistle, it’s time to shine a spotlight on the ATF and the employees allegedly wasting taxpayer money.