Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) offered an amendment to the FY2012 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill that would add Congressional Committees with oversight responsibilities for law enforcement, intelligence, and national security to the list of entities that are allowed to request gun trace information from the ATF.
"Operation Fast and Furious, which resulted in the deaths of both American and Mexican citizens, exemplifies the need to do away with regulations that handicap Congress's oversight responsibilities," Rep. Schiff said. "Trace data is critically important to both law enforcement operations that target gun traffickers, as well as to the Congressional oversight of those operations."
Earlier this year, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Explosives & Firearms' (ATF) engaged in a surveillance program code-named "Operation Fast and Furious," in which ATF agents were instructed to allow guns purchased by known criminals to be illegally trafficked across the border to Mexico in an effort to connect those guns to drug cartels. The operation resulted in hundreds of guns being transferred to cartels, which were later found at crime scenes and submitted into the U.S. eTrace system, which stores gun trace data and is maintained by the ATF. However, due to a rider that has been a feature of Appropriations bills since 2003, known as the "Tiahrt Amendment," the ATF cannot provide that data to any entity other than a law enforcement agency.
As a result, Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa and Ranking Member of the Committee on the Judiciary Chuck Grassley were forced to attempt to obtain this vital information through a convoluted process whereby Mexican law enforcement would request it from the ATF and then provide it to Congress. On June 21, Chairman Issa and Ranking Member Grassley jointly wrote to the Mexican Ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, to request gun trace information for guns connected to Operation Fast and Furious. However, there is no guarantee that Mexican law enforcement officials will comply with this request, and the questions regarding Operation Fast and Furious may remain unanswered as a result.
Regrettably, the committee rejected the amendment by a vote of 20-27.
A bipartisan coalition of more than 600 Mayors Against Illegal Guns have urged the repeal of the Tiahrt Amendment in the FY 2012 budget. Without fully repealing the Tiahrt Amendment, Rep. Schiff's amendment would provide the necessary recourse for Congressional Committees to properly conduct their oversight responsibilities to keep our communities safe.
"It is ludicrous that Congress would need to ask a foreign government to request documents in the possession of a U.S. Agency, the ATF," Rep. Schiff said. "This amendment would facilitate the investigation of Fast and Furious and restore Congress' ability to do adequate oversight. If the committee is unwilling to untie the Congress' hands, I would hope the full House will."