The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosivesí National Firearms
Registration and Transfer Record

Evaluation and Inspections Report I-2007-006
June 2007
Office of the Inspector General


Purpose, Scope, and Methodology of the OIG Review

Purpose

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conducted this review to examine ATF’s effectiveness in maintaining the records of registrations and transfers of NFA weapons in the NFRTR. Members of Congress and the Inspector General had received letters from citizens expressing concern about the accuracy and completeness of the NFRTR and the administration of the NFA Branch. Generally, the concerns were that: (1) errors in NFRTR records leave citizens vulnerable to unjust convictions on NFA-related charges; (2) interpretation of regulations and paperwork by NFA Branch employees expose citizens to, or resulted in, unjust enforcement of the NFA; and (3) NFA Branch staff made errors and mistakes while processing applications and failed to update the NFRTR to reflect approved transfers.

Scope and Methodology

The review focused on the operations of the NFA Branch, which is responsible for maintaining the NFRTR and processing NFA weapons applications. Our fieldwork, conducted from September 2006 through January 2007, included in-person and telephone interviews, a site visit to the NFA Branch in West Virginia, data analyses, document reviews, a survey, and a demonstration of the NFRTR database.

Interviews

We interviewed 58 ATF officials and staff, 10 contractors, 2 board members of the National Firearms Act Trade and Collectors Association (NFATCA), a representative from the National Rifle Association (NRA), and a federal firearms licensee. Table 2 lists the officials and staff interviewed.

Table 2: Officials Interviewed

Site Official(s) Interviewed
ATF Headquarters, Washington, D.C. Assistant Director, Office of Enforcement Programs and Services
Deputy Assistant Director, Office of Enforcement Programs and Services
Associate Chief Counsel, Firearms, Explosives, and Arson Division
NFA Branch Program Manager
Former ATF Specialist, NFA Branch
ATF Specialist, NFA Branch, detailed to HQ
Former Legal Instrument Examiner, NFA Branch
Deputy Chief, Field Management Staff, Field Operations
ATF, Martinsburg, WV Deputy Chief, Firearms and Explosives Division
NFA Branch Chief
Chief, National Tracing Center Division
Deputy Chief, National Tracing Center Division
Firearms and Explosives Imports Branch Chief
Section Chief (2)
Specialist (3)
Legal Instrument Examiner (6)
Data Entry Clerk, Contractor (3)
Customer Service Representative, Contractor (3)
Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative
Document Imaging Contractor
Project Manager, Contractor (3)
ATF Field Offices Special Agent (27)
Industry Operations Investigator (10)
Industry Representatives Board Member, National Firearms Act Trade and Collectors Association (2)
Representative, National Rifle Association (NRA)
Federal Firearms Licensee

Data Analyses and Document Reviews

We reviewed and analyzed data ATF provided that included the number of applications processed, number of record searches, number of inventory reports, processing and response times, number of disapproved applications, NFA weapons prosecutions, and NFA weapons seizures and forfeitures. The data came from the time period of either fiscal or calendar years 1995 – 2006.

We reviewed ATF policies, budget documents, manuals, reports, memorandums, staff performance plans, and position descriptions. Additionally, we reviewed legislation, congressional testimony, news articles, citizens’ concerns, and other reports related to the NFA, NFA weapons, and the NFRTR.

Survey

To obtain information about the effects of NFRTR errors on compliance inspections of federal firearms licensees and ATF field office work, we conducted an internet-based survey of all ATF Industry Operations Investigators (IOI). We pretested the survey with 10 users and made changes to the questions based on the pretest results. In December 2006, we sent e-mail invitations to 621 IOIs (the entire IOI population) with passwords, instructions, and a link to the survey. Three-hundred and fifteen e-mail invitations were returned as “undeliverable.” After reviewing the original list of IOI e-mails, we determined there were various errors with over half of the e-mail addresses ATF provided. We made corrections where possible and re-sent invitations and reminders to a total of 609 IOIs. Within the 3 weeks that online access was available, 334 (55 percent) of the IOIs completed the survey, and 299 of those 334 had had experience inspecting federal firearms licensees with NFA weapons. See Appendix II for a copy of the survey questions.

Demonstration

We observed a demonstration of the NFRTR database that included the functions, processes, and use of the system.



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