Republicans look to eliminate armed law enforcement at some agencies
While only a small number of employees, conservative lawmakers say the officers infringe on Americans' rights.
A group of Republican lawmakers want to eliminate armed law enforcement from a handful of agencies, saying the employees are unnecessary and infringe on the lives of U.S. citizens.
The 2023 No Funds for Armed Regulators Act (H.R. 4416) would specifically prohibit funding and hiring for regulatory enforcement officers at the Internal Revenue Service, Environmental Protection Agency and Labor Department. While the firearm-carrying employees at those agencies make up just a tiny fraction of their workforces, a group of eight House Republicans said they should not exist at all. The bill would eliminate the officer positions and ban the use of force or weapons.
“Deep state bureaucrats continue to push their executive authority into every corner of America, treading heavily upon your rights and devouring your wealth,” said Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., who introduced the bill. “This bill is a key step in pushing back against the oppressive tactics being used to enforce regulatory policies.”
Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., one of the cosponsors on the measure, introduced his own bill last week to ban the IRS from buying or maintaining any guns and would transfer the IRS Criminal Investigations division to the Justice Department. He put the legislation—the Why Does the IRS Have Guns Act (H.R. 4436)—forward after armed IRS and Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Bureau agents conducted a search at a gun shop in his home state.
“Biden's alphabet agencies have no business intimidating hardworking Montanans," Rosendale said. "The weaponization of our government must end.”
Although the IRS Criminal Investigations division was formally designated as such in 1978, the agency has had law enforcement officers since the early 20th century. The modern version of the law enforcement component came under scrutiny after the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which gave IRS $80 billion over 10 years to, in part, hire tens of thousands of employees. While Republican lawmakers suggested the agency was going to use the funding to ramp up its armed law enforcement activity, the Biden administration has stressed the hiring will focus mostly on customer service and revenue officers.
IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel has said the agency’s Criminal Investigation division will not grow beyond its current 3% of the workforce. During his swearing-in ceremony earlier this year, Werfel joked IRS employees would transform the agency “armed only with their calculators.”
EPA’s criminal division traces back to 1988, when President Reagan signed into law the EPA Law Enforcement Powers Act to correct for limited enforcement issues that had plagued the agency in its early years. It currently has about 160 special agents. In a 2015 op-ed, Mike Fisher, legal director for EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, defended the law enforcement contingent as necessary to protect employees during the occasionally dangerous investigations they carry out.
“Exercising the authority conferred by Congress and affirmed by two Republican presidents, EPA’s criminal enforcement team has conducted its work with professionalism and respect, following a strict code of conduct for law enforcement officers,” Fisher said. “Maintaining this authority is critically important for public safety, for the safety of the agents themselves, and for the sake of the healthy environment that all Americans want to pass on to our children and future generations.”
As of 2020, the Labor Department employed just 17 law enforcement officers.