The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosivesí National Firearms
Registration and Transfer Record
Evaluation and Inspections Report I-2007-006
Office of the Inspector General
We concluded that since 2004 the NFA Branch has reduced the overall average processing time by more than two thirds for forms used most by individual weapons owners and federal firearms dealers. According to members of the NFA weapons industry and ATF IOIs and Special Agents, the NFA Branch also has improved its responsiveness to customer service inquiries and requests for information from the NFRTR. In general, comments from individuals we interviewed external and internal to ATF were favorable about the NFA Branch’s service and efforts to maintain the NFRTR. However, we found that the ATF website is generally difficult to navigate and finding NFA information is challenging for NFA Branch customers.
Despite the significant improvements, management deficiencies and technical software flaws contribute to errors in the NFRTR database and affect its reliability as a regulatory tool for ATF IOIs. For example, the NFA Branch staff do not process applications or enter data into the NFRTR in a consistent manner. The NFA Branch also has a backlog of record discrepancies that it is not able to resolve in a timely manner. Further, the NFRTR database has software programming flaws that can cause errors in records and reports.
Despite these problems, we found no evidence that individual weapons owners and federal firearms licensees had been charged inappropriately with criminal violations because of errors in the NFRTR.
We concluded that the NFA Branch has not fully established an adequate management infrastructure for ensuring the integrity of the NFRTR and the integrity of the decisions based on NFRTR data. The NFA Branch does not have sufficient standard operating procedures for working with the NFRTR and processing applications. The Branch also lacks uniform training on procedures for NFA Branch staff members and systematic communications methods for managers to keep staff members continuously informed of procedures and NFA issues. As a result, staff members learned about procedures in an ad hoc manner, were not fully familiar with the NFRTR and the NFA, and did not have all the information necessary to accomplish their duties. The NFA Branch Chief recognized these problems and was working to update and expand written procedures as well as to improve communication with staff and to provide training about NFA weapons and NFA-related issues.
Further, we concluded that the NFA Branch and ATF headquarters have not taken sufficient action to address other longstanding management and technical issues affecting the NFRTR – a backlog in correcting errors identified during compliance inspections of federal firearms licensees, technical programming flaws that create errors, and slow or no progress on important projects that could improve application processing.
The NFA Branch does not promptly correct errors in NFRTR records identified by IOIs when conducting compliance inspections of federal firearms licensees. Discrepancies between the NFRTR data and licensees’ actual inventories slow completion of inspections and are disconcerting for licensees because they fear sanctions for violations of the NFA.
ATF also has not updated the programming of the NFRTR database platform. While NFA Branch personnel described the database as “user friendly,” the NFRTR has incomplete data and logic flaws that produce inaccurate results in reports and queries.
Moreover, ATF has not completed two projects funded initially in FY 2002 that would improve the accuracy of the NFRTR and increase the efficiency of the NFA Branch. ATF has a backlog of NFA weapons transfer and registration documents to scan into digital files and index in a database (called the “imaging” database). With the imaging database, NFA Branch staff can electronically search for information not available in the NFRTR and needed for the complete transaction history of registered NFA weapons. ATF also has not implemented e-Forms, a system that would allow applicants to submit NFA transfer and registration forms online. The e-Forms project would streamline the application process, reduce application errors, and reduce NFRTR data entry errors. With these improvements, the NFA Branch could devote more resources to fixing the backlog of existing errors in the NFRTR. However, funding constraints have slowed or stopped progress on the projects.
Although many of the letters from citizens that prompted our review of the NFRTR, as well as comments that we received from representatives of the NFATCA, indicate concern that errors in the NFRTR can lead to unjust sanctions and criminal charges, we concluded, based on ATF records and interviews, that this has not occurred. Further, NFATCA representatives did not provide us with any examples of instances in which inaccuracies in the NFRTR resulted in weapons being inappropriately seized from NFATCA members.
To assist in the improvement of the NFRTR, we recommend that ATF:
Improve the ATF website by making it easier for the public to find NFA information, such as frequently asked questions, application forms and instructions, NFA Branch contact information, and the NFA handbook.
Develop and disseminate to all NFA Branch staff a comprehensive standard operating procedures manual that includes all NFA weapons application processes, NFRTR processes, and data entry codes and abbreviations.
Develop uniform and structured training for new staff members that includes standard operating procedures and hands-on experience with the NFRTR. Ensure that all NFA Branch staff members attend the training and that the staff trainers are themselves properly trained. Provide training for the Section Chiefs on supervisory techniques.
Establish regular and recurring methods of communication to NFA Branch staff.
Resolve discrepancies between the NFRTR and inventories of federal firearms licensees in a timely manner.
Develop and implement an action plan to fix technical programming flaws and errors in the NFRTR.
Develop and implement an action plan for eliminating the backlog of imaging and indexing forms for the imaging database.
Develop and implement an action plan for completing the e-Forms project.
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