THE BUREAU OF ALCOHOL, TOBACCO, FIREARMS, AND EXPLOSIVES, or ATF, has a long and storied history going back to the early days of our country’s founding. In 1791, the U.S. Congress passed legislation to pay for the debt from the Revolutionary War by taxing alcohol and tobacco. That highly unpopular job fell to a group of supervisors, inspectors, and collectors that became the original forerunner of today’s ATF. The organization’s history has been punctuated by memorable personalities and cases, from Eliot Ness—a special agent with another ATF forerunner, the Bureau of Prohibition—to high-profile terrorism investigations.
But governments, like businesses, are always looking for ways to deliver services in a faster, more efficient, and cost-effective manner, and in September, near the end of the 113th Congress, House Resolution 5522 (HR-5522), also known as the “ATF Elimination Act,” was introduced to abolish the bureau and redistribute its functions to other executive agencies.
Such a move would undoubtedly have a significant impact on NFPA and the nation’s fire service.NFPA, after all, has enjoyed a long and productive relationship with ATF. For starters, the bureau provides direct input into the ongoing revisions to several of our codes and standards, and an ATF employee sits on the Fire Investigations Technical Committee associated with NFPA 921, Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations. ATF has also provided research assistance to projects initiated by the Fire Protection Research Foundation. We are exploring additional opportunities for NFPA and ATF to partner on future research projects using ATF’s state-of-the-art Fire Research Laboratory, one of the world’s largest test labs dedicated to fire-scene investigation and an important tool to help answer complex fire behavior questions.
ATF also provides direct support to arson investigation efforts. The bureau operates a web-based system called Bomb Arson Tracking System, or BATS, which provides state and local investigators with access to up-to-date arson and explosives data from around the nation. ATF provides training courses for investigations using NFPA standards, and it partners with the U.S. Fire Administration to provide arson-related training courses at the National Emergency Training Center. ATF also provides direct support to local and state investigations by sending response teams, as well as accelerant- and arson-detection canines, to a variety of fire incidents when requested.
ATF’s support of the fire service does not stop with arson. The bureau was the lead federal agency, along with New York State Police, in the investigation that led to the arrest and conviction of the woman who purchased the assault rifle used in the am-bush of firefighters in upstate New York in December 2012, an attack that killed two firefighters and injured two more.
These are just a few examples of the cooperation between ATF and NFPA. How ATF may be affected by this proposed legislation is yet to be determined, but the new version of HR-5522 in the 114th Congress will be watched closely by the fire service and by NFPA. While NFPA has not taken a position on the legislation, we will evaluate the new version when it is introduced and determine the potential impact of ATF’s elimination—and we will also express our concerns to the House Judiciary Committee and others on the Hill.