Briefing

Tracking gunrunners, dotting all the i's at GPO, and lighthouses for sale.

Tracking Gunrunners

When police in Mexico confiscate a gun at, say, the scene of a drug deal gone bad and suspect it was bought stateside, they file a report on eTrace to nab the trafficker. Operated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the system follows firearms from the point of manufacture to purchase.

Trace requests from Mexico increased after ATF launched Project Gunrunner in 2006, with applications growing from 5,834 in 2004 to 22,000 in 2009. But the connections identified through eTrace aren't leading to many arrests, according to an inspector general at the Justice Department. In a November 2010 review, the IG reported that out of about 25 investigative leads that a field intelligence group collected in 2009, none resulted in arrests or prosecutions. Also, trace requests often don't work because of missing or improperly entered gun data.

And when the system does produce leads, U.S. officials don't always follow up, some lawmakers allege. ATF officials in Phoenix who retrieved eTrace reports indicative of trafficking would let the smuggling continue as part of a flawed prosecution strategy, argues a June investigative report released by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking member of the Justice Committee.

-Aliya Sternstein

Dotting All the i's At GPO

Even history's greatest writers need a little bit of editing. President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, for example, did not escape the printing process unscathed. In celebration of its 150th anniversary, the Government Printing Office has on display a preliminary copy of the document with nine proofing marks, which denote changes in punctuation, capitalization or word additions. GPO issued 15,000 copies of the original version to military personnel and diplomats in 1862, but made the corrections before releasing the final product a year later.

-Emily Long

Lighthouses for Sale

Want to own a lighthouse? The General Services Administration can help. Each year, GSA must get rid of several lighthouses, which due to technological advances, are no longer useful to the U.S. Coast Guard. But officials aren't looking for just any buyer-preserving the historical integrity of the structures is part of the deal. During the past 10 years, GSA has transferred 63 lighthouses to new owners.

The initiative is just one example of the government's push to offload excess property. GSA has listed office buildings, warehouses, laboratories, military bases and even salt mines, but lighthouses are among the agency's most unique inventory.

This year, 12 are available in California, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and Wisconsin to government and nonprofit entities.

The National Park Service reviews applications to decide which organization can best preserve and present the lighthouse as a historic landmark.

If no suitable candidates apply, then the properties will go to an online public auction, where private bidders have 30 days to make an offer.

Lighthouses have sold for as little as $10,000 and for as much as $250,000. Proceeds go back to the Coast Guard to invest in facilities. Private owners still have to preserve the properties, but do not have to make them accessible to the public. "You could live in it. Make it a bed and breakfast," says Ralph Conner, GSA's director of Real Property Utilization.

-Caitlin Fairchild

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