ATF criticized in explosives industry oversight
Justice Department inspector general cites danger to public
From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The federal agency monitoring the explosives industry has failed to provide adequate background checks on workers and job applicants, the U.S. Justice Department said.
Additionally, the Justice Department's inspector general called for immediate federal action to boost regulation of the explosives industry, citing a "significant risk to public safety" from what it said were more than 600 "possible prohibited persons" who have access to explosives in the United States.
The report, released Monday by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, is sharply critical of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF.
"We believe that immediate action is required to correct the critical deficiencies in the ATF's implementation of the [Safe Explosives Act] to ensure that prohibited persons do not have access to explosives," Fine said.
The 2002 Safe Explosives Act was part of the government's effort to prevent terrorist acts. The ATF was named chief enforcer of the law and implemented new rules for licensing and regulating explosives manufacturers, importers, dealers and users.
In a statement, the ATF acknowledged the report's findings but pointed to accomplishments in enforcing the act.
"ATF's implementation of the Safe Explosives Act was an extraordinary effort, and we are proud of it," the statement read.
"ATF recognizes that there are discrepancies resulting from this review that need to be immediately and appropriately addressed. We are committed to doing so."
The inspector general's report said investigators found no record that ATF had requested FBI background checks on 59 of 683 employees of explosive licensees that had been examined.
"We also found the ATF had failed to complete the background check process for over half [655 of 1,157] of the individuals identified by the FBI as possible prohibited persons," the report said.
"Through additional research, we found that several of these individuals had serious criminal records," the report said, noting that one of them had been convicted of felony theft.
The inspector general issued a series of recommendations, including a call for the agency to complete plans for establishing an explosives licensing center and to implement a process for collecting and cataloging explosives at the ATF National Laboratory.
That information is needed to assist national and local law enforcement agencies during investigations of the illegal use of explosives, the report said.
The report acknowledged the scope of the task the ATF faces. More than 5 billion pounds of explosives are used each year in the United States. While most are designed for mining, construction and demolition projects, some also are used for fireworks, inflation of auto airbags and medical purposes, the report noted.