ATF Director Reminds Staff To Follow the Rules When Recruiting Family and Friends
The Justice Department watchdog raised concerns last December about avoiding ethical issues when hiring special agents.
The federal firearms agency head warned employees this week against using improper measures to get family and friends hired at the agency.
In an April 17 memo obtained by Government Executive, Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, wrote that while he didn’t want to “discourage ATF employees from encouraging people they know with the requisite skill set to seek employment with ATF… [they] must be mindful to avoid taking any improper action to ensure the appointment, based on that personal relationship.”
The memo comes months after a Justice Department inspector general advisory urged the agency to do more to avoid ethical issues when hiring special agents. The watchdog acknowledged that ATF employees sometimes informally recruit among family and friends, which isn’t improper in and of itself, but there should be more checks in place.
In 2013, the Office of Personnel Management gave ATF a special hiring authority called “Schedule B” to recruit and hire special agents, which acknowledges the “unique challenges” of recruiting candidates for the role, as Dettelbach outlined.
“ATF employees are in a unique position to identify potential applicants and may recruit, refer, and encourage potential applicants to seek employment as an ATF special agent,” he continued. Sometimes ATF employees might have personal relationships with those they recruit, and “while that alone is not a problem, care must be taken not to improperly bias ATF's neutral and fair hiring policies because of an employee's personal feelings. That danger is especially strong in the case of familial relationships.”
The director underscored that all ATF job applicants have to go through a thorough and neutral selection process without undue influences and the consequences of trying to improperly influence the hiring process for a friend or family member. Questions about the recruitment of family and friends can be directed to the Office of Chief Counsel in the Management Division.
Kristina Mastropasqua, ATF spokesperson, said the agency doesn’t comment on internal memos, but recapped the IG’s advisory.
“The OIG did not find any wrongdoing on the part of ATF, however, they recommended ATF implement training and formalize a written policy regarding the recruitment of family and friends,” Mastropasqua said. “As recommended – though not required – by the OIG, ATF has since implemented mandatory training and established a written policy to ensure all staff are familiar with federal laws regarding prohibitive hiring practices.”
The four pathways for working at the ATF are special agent; industry operations investigator; forensics and STEM; and professional and technical. As of January, special agents made up about half of the agency’s workforce.