The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, gave the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) a $35 million increase in its annual budget from the agency’s fiscal year 2017 figure. The Act, Public Law 115-141, was signed into law by the President on March 23, 2018. It covers appropriations for federal government agencies for fiscal year 2018, which runs from October 1, 2018-September 30, 2019.
The House Report accompanying the bill states that the total figure appropriated for ATF, $1.29 billion, is $35 million above the agency’s 2017 figure and $20 million above the budget request submitted by the Department of Justice. This is a very good sign, as Congress clearly recognizes the importance of ATF’s mission. The House Report specifically states, “ATF’s highest priority shall be to combat violent crime and promote public safety.”
The House Report also recommends that $10 million of the increase for the agency be used for the following activities:
- National Firearms Act Branch
- Federal Firearms Licensing Center
- Federal Explosives Licensing Center
- Imports Branch
- Development and implementation of ATF’s next generation eForms system
Language in House and Senate reports is not binding in the same way as earmark language in the appropriations bill itself. Nonetheless, federal agencies recognize that appropriators put language in reports as a strong recommendation to agencies that funds be used in the manner recommended. Thus, ATF knows that staff from the House Appropriations Committee will be following through to determine whether the $10 million was used in the manner set forth above.
How will ATF allocate the $10 million for the regulatory services listed above? The most pressing need for the agency is probably the NFA Branch, as that branch continues to have a significant backlog, particularly for Form 4 firearms transfer applications. However, ATF has been promising a complete and updated eForms system for years. NFA Forms 1, 4, and 5 are not available as eForms, and neither is the Form 7 firearms license application or Form 5400.13 explosives license application. Completion of all ATF forms as eForms would significantly streamline all forms processing, resulting in efficiency for ATF and time saved by industry members. My vote for the $10 million is to spend it on eForms.
ATF officials advise that discussions are underway on how to spend the additional $10 million. The agency has difficult decisions to make on eForms, system upgrades for old legacy databases, and other IT improvements. ATF representatives attending the NSSF Import/Export conference will definitely be asked how they are spending the additional funds.
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