April 2, 2018 / 5:24 PM / 23 days ago

High risk of ammunition, explosives vanishing at U.S. agency: watchdog

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The agency that regulates guns and explosives in the United States and also fights firearm-related crime, does not have an accurate count of bullets, chemical weapons and other devices it possesses, an internal watchdog’s report said.

The report released on Monday said the armaments could easily go missing from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, commonly called the ATF. The agency has inadequate and inaccurate ammunition inventory logs, according to the office of the inspector general.

The non-political watchdog within the Department of Justice, which houses the ATF, conducted a physical inspection at 13 sites and found 31,000 rounds of ammunition had not been logged into ATF records and that there were problems with how bullets were stored at several locations.

“Given that the ATF has over 275 offices, the number of unaccounted ammunition rounds is likely much higher,” said Michael Horowitz, the Inspector General, in remarks accompanying the report. “When inventories are inaccurate, there is increased risk that ammunition may be lost, stolen, or misplaced without detection.”

In the same vein, the quantities of some explosive materials ATF had on hand did not match inventory records or vendors’ invoices. Also, the ATF did not have strong physical controls over “less lethal munitions” such as flash-bang grenades and chemical agents, making them susceptible to disappearing without notice.

The ATF referred a request for comment to its response included in the report, an appendix where it said it concurred with the office’s nine recommendations for changes and was already working to correct how it stores ammunition and better monitor workers’ access to weapons.

Horowitz’s office found ATF personnel in some cases had easy access to seized firearms and other evidence, creating a risk “that the evidence may be lost, misplaced, stolen, or otherwise compromised.”

The ATF is infamous for the “Fast and Furious” scandal beginning in 2009 when Mexican drug cartels were allowed to obtain guns. The bureau seizes around 23,000 weapons each year and also has more than 35,000 firearms, Tasers and silencers in its own inventory, according to the report.

The ATF has greatly improved controls over its own weapon stocks in the last 10 years, the report said. Between 2014 and 2017, the bureau reported 26 instances of lost, stolen or missing firearms, cutting its monthly loss rate by more than half since a similar audit in 2008.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert; editing by Grant McCool

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