The Trump administration is working on an initiative that would remove some of the longstanding authority from the Department of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives. This is mostly common sense since the ATF has all but abandoned its efforts to curtail the activities of those who smuggle tobacco and alcohol.
The ATF was formed out of the Prohibition era during which time alcohol was a strictly controlled substance. Today’s ATF has largely become top heavy, receiving far more funds and resources that it actually needs to do what it actually does.
This resolution would remedy a bureaucratic fissure that has plagued the executive branch for some time wherein the Treasury collects taxes on alcohol and tobacco, but the ATF is still in charge of chasing down those who evade those taxes. This is just one example of the many governmental inefficiencies that Trump is taking aim at. Inefficiencies like these waste time, resources, and untold amounts of taxpayer funds.
Trump’s upcoming budget proposal contains a draft of the plan to rearrange these federal powers, two senior White House officials told the New York Times. The Congress will be called upon to draft a bill that would set the plan into law.
The officials who briefed the media about the plan only did so on the contingency of anonymity as they did not have the authority to discuss the current draft version. Despite the fact that budget plans are constantly changing, the ATF’s charter has remained the same for a very long time.
Spokespersons for the ATF and the Treasury have not been available for comment on this story.
It is interesting to note that the odd division of labor between the Treasury and the ATF concerning tobacco and alcohol enforcement did not start until soon after the attacks of September 11, 2001. It was in the aftermath of that tragic event that Congress removed the ATF from the purview of the Treasury and relocated them squarely within the Department of Justice.
At the time, it seemed like a sensible move. The ATF, after all, is focused on criminal activity concerning a range of controlled substances and devices. Their mission seemed like a good fit for the DOJ. So the Congress directed the Treasury to retain its jurisdiction over the regulation of tobacco and alcohol. This left the question of who would handle smuggling investigations unanswered, as the Treasury no longer had any agents with any law enforcement authority.
Bradley A. Buckles served as the director of the ATF under the two presidents preceding Barack Obama. He told NYT reporters, “There was some considerable debate about leaving the alcohol and tobacco criminal enforcement powers within the Treasury at that time, but there was no one who had the authority to investigate smuggling. The Treasury didn’t have any interest in creating a new criminal investigative team. They were happy to let it all go.”
One of the chief concerns driving the proposal is the problem of the illegal movement of cigarettes. This is a topic that becomes more and more interesting to the federal government with each new tobacco tax increase. With cigarettes priced at $3 per carton in Virginia and $43 per carton in New York- the call to smugglers was clear and it has become a fully-fledged underground industry in the central east coast region.
Smugglers employ complex schemes to move cigarettes between these two states, and they have made enough money doing so to make the risks worthwhile. Because of this lopsided market, and enormous taxes, it has come to pass that more than 50% of the cigarettes sold in New York have passed through illegal channels.
The ATF once prioritized tobacco enforcement, but the results were poor at best- not unlike the rest of the drug war which has cost the American public billions with a negligible effect on drug abuse statistics. They have since turned their attention toward violent crime.
President Trump has asked the ATF to take the lead on a crackdown on illegal gun trafficking, gun violence, and the criminal gangs that smuggle them in and around the country. He sent a specialized ATF team to Chicago in the summer of 2017 as part of his widespread plan to take down the MS-13 Mexican mafia.
Under Trump’s plan, the Treasury would be given the authority to investigate alcohol and tobacco smuggling. This would leave the ATF in need of a new name. To this end, we have submitted our suggestion, “The F-Team.” We think it works.
~ American Gun News