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ATF buyouts could slow investigations

Sep. 23, 2011 - 06:00AM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
ATF says between 250 and 275 law enforcement officers, special agents, chemists, investigators and other employees are likely to accept buyouts or early retirements.
ATF says between 250 and 275 law enforcement officers, special agents, chemists, investigators and other employees are likely to accept buyouts or early retirements. (Evan F. Sisley / AFP via Getty Images)

The cash-strapped Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives expects its impending staffing cuts will slow down its criminal investigations and processing of firearm and explosive license applications.

ATF, which is expecting budget cuts in fiscal 2012, said between 250 and 275 law enforcement officers, special agents, chemists, investigators and other employees are likely to accept buyouts or early retirements. That would cut ATF's 5,100-person workforce by about 5 percent.

Audrey Stucko, acting assistant director of ATF's Office of Human Resources and Professional Development, said Friday that ATF is turning to buyouts and early outs to avoid having to furlough or lay off employees.

"We want to be able to survive, and we want to be able to do that with a reduced staff so that we have sufficient resources to at least fund those folks," Stucko said. "The people that leave, we want them to leave of their choosing and not of us directing them to leave because we need to reduce our budget."

Stucko said that the staffing cuts will likely hamper ATF's ability to prevent violent crime, and could have ripple effects slowing down the entire judicial process. With fewer chemists and other lab technicians analyzing evidence, it will take longer to get evidence results to investigators and slow down their completion of cases. This will mean it takes longer to get cases to U.S. attorneys' offices and bring accused criminals to trial, she said.

There will also be fewer employees approving licenses for people in the firearms and explosives industries, Stucko said, which will slow down that process.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Sept. 15 approved a bill that would provide nearly $1.1 billion for ATF $22 million less than 2011 levels and $57 million below its budget request. The House Appropriations Committee in July approved a bill that would keep ATF funding at 2011 levels.

ATF would like to see as many as 400 employees take the buyouts or early outs, but based on a survey earlier this year, doesn't expect that many to accept the offer. ATF expects to save between $15 million and $20 million by reducing its ranks. Employees accepting the offer must be off the books by Nov. 30.

The Office of Personnel Management last month granted ATF authority to offer buyouts and early outs through June 2013, and Stucko said it could announce another offer if it needs to cut costs further.

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