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OIG Finds Room for Improvement in ATF’s Frontline Initiative

The Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has released a report examining the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) implementation of its Frontline Initiative.

Frontline is a business model that ATF implemented in 2013 to address a number of ongoing management concerns, including those identified in previous OIG reports, such as insufficient oversight of field division operations as detailed in the OIG’s 2012 report on Operation Fast and Furious.

The DOJ OIG found that ATF’s implementation of Frontline helped ATF to standardize best practices across field divisions, focus resources on DOJ’s law enforcement priorities, and address systemic weaknesses, including the need for consistent oversight of field operations.

However, the report also identified areas for continued improvement. The OIG’s specific findings include:

Compliance. ATF does not have a formal internal review process to assess field division compliance with Frontline requirements. The OIG determined that the lack of an ATF headquarters review process limits ATF’s ability to hold field divisions accountable to their goals and to make continued improvements to Frontline.

Performance. ATF did not develop performance metrics for the Frontline Initiative itself, so we were unable to assess Frontline’s effectiveness in supporting ATF’s mission.

Internal Messaging. ATF leadership did not effectively communicate why ATF needed a new business model and what it expected from its staff in implementing Frontline. ATF also did not develop training for field division supervisors on the development of the annual Domain Assessments.

Guidance for Field Intelligence Functions. Frontline was effective in enhancing ATF’s intelligence functions to better support its field divisions and prioritize operations. However, ATF needs to update their intelligence guidance so they have clear roles and responsibilities within field division operations.

Partner Coordination. Frontline emphasizes better use of intelligence derived from ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network and firearms tracing programs. However, because the programs rely on external partner participation, ATF must enhance partner engagement to fully exploit the intelligence generated through these programs.

The report makes five recommendations to assist ATF with the implementation of Frontline:

  1. Update and maintain the Intelligence Program Order and Crime Gun Intelligence Center mission guidance to reflect current intelligence functions and structure, and ensure staff accountability for all standards, including referral responsiveness.
  2. Define and develop performance metrics to assess Frontline-driven operational changes and document the work performed and results of external law enforcement outreach and communication efforts.
  3. Reevaluate and develop National Academy Frontline training modules for new recruits and sustainment training for current staff that communicates Frontline’s purpose, intent, and staff expectations.
  4. Develop new-supervisor training specific to the Domain Assessment process.
  5. Develop headquarters-level processes to evaluate compliance with Frontline requirements, and assess the Domain Assessment process to improve its development and execution in the field divisions and allow better trend identification by headquarters leadership.

ATF agreed with all of the recommendations.

Read the full report here

Kylie Bull has 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. She is an editor and contributor for Jane's by IHS Markit, a columnist for security and counter-terror publications, and a former managing editor for Homeland Security Today.

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