Federal Firearms Licensee Data:

ATF's Compliance with Statutory Restrictions

GGD-96-174: Published: Sep 11, 1996. Publicly Released: Oct 11, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed various aspects of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms' (ATF) operations, focusing on ATF compliance in meeting specific legislative restrictions in 18 U.S.C. 926(a) regarding federal firearms licensee data.

GAO found that: (1) ATF identified and described 14 national data systems and 4 subsystems that relate to firearms; (2) according to ATF, five systems and one subsystem contain data that readily identify retail purchasers or possessors of specific firearms; (3) the Out-of-Business Records System contains records that federal firearms licensees are required by statute to forward to ATF within 30 days following a permanent discontinuance of their business; (4) the Multiple Sales System contains data from reports that federal firearms licensees are required by statute to send to ATF showing sales or other dispositions of two or more pistols and/or revolvers to an unlicensed person at one time or during any 5 consecutive business days; (5) the two systems, as designed, comply with the data restrictions and do not violate the appropriation rider prohibition against consolidating or centralizing licensee records; (6) on the basis of GAO's review, observations, and discussions with ATF officials, it believes that ATF operated the two systems consistently with their design, with one exception relating to the Multiple Sales System; (7) GAO agrees with ATF's view of section 926(a), but GAO believes that ATF's interpretation of the annual appropriation rider was too narrow; (8) ATF contended that both section 926(a) and the appropriation rider restricted it from issuing rules and regulations imposing additional reporting requirements on licensees but did not restrict what it did internally with information it otherwise acquired; (9) GAO agrees that the restriction in section 926(a) limits ATF only from prescribing certain rules or regulations, but the appropriation rider contains no language that would limit its application either to prescribing rules and regulations or to imposing additional reporting requirements on licensees; (10) GAO believes that the rider has legal effect independent of section 926; (11) GAO does not believe that the rider precludes all information practices and data systems that involve an element of "consolidating or centralizing" licensee records; (12) to the extent that the centralization or consolidation of firearms transaction records is incident to carrying out a specific ATF responsibility and does not entail the aggregation of data on firearms transactions in a manner that would go beyond the purposes of the Gun Control Act of 1968, as amended, GAO does not believe that the rider would be violated; and (13) given its legal position on the limited scope of the rider, ATF had not systematically analyzed its data systems and information practices to give appropriate effect to the appropriation rider.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Between December 1, 1996, and January 10, 1997, ATF's Inspection Division reviewed ATF's National Firearms Act Project LEAD and Firearms Tracing System database and found them to be in compliance with existing and proposed appropriations legislation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Treasury should require the Director, ATF, to review ATF firearms data systems and information practices to ensure that they comply with the appropriation rider.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ATF reported the results of its review of its National Firearms Act, Project LEAD and Firearms Tracing System databases to Treasury's Office of Budget on February 5, 1997. Treasury decided not to include the results in the ATF fiscal year 1998 budget submission but subsequently provided the results under separate cover to the subcommittee.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Treasury should require the Director, ATF, to report the results of these actions to the Subcommittee in conjunction with the ATF fiscal year 1998 budget submission.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

 

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