Federal agencies need to work closely together

Freedom New Mexico

Border residents surely are growing more alarmed at the escalating violence in Mexico, often within earshot of U.S. residents.

Large gunbattles between drug cartels, and between them and the Mexican military, are getting larger, and closer.

A recent U.S. government report isn’t going to ease the concerns of those who worry about the violence spilling into this country.

The Justice Department’s inspector general last week released a report criticizing federal efforts to reduce gun smuggling from the United States into Mexico.

The report finds that the effort, named Operation Gunrunner, is mired in the same old inefficiency and lack of cooperation that have plagued law enforcement agencies for years, and that should have been corrected years ago.

It notes that too many resources are focused on small-time criminals, instead of the “big fish” who supply cartels with increasingly powerful and sophisticated weapons. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has for the past six years spent most of its time working on small cases that are easily prosecuted. More than 80 percent of the 1,015 ATF cases prosecuted between 2004 and 2009 had one or two defendants, the report states.

These “straw purchases” are the cases we see regularly, where a single person is charged with buying one or two weapons as a proxy for another person. They ring up convictions for the feds, but don’t do much to disarm Mexican gangsters. After all, they’re using explosives and assault weapons in their confrontations and executions. They’re probably not buying grenades and AKMs at the local sporting goods store.

The report also found that little information is shared between ATF, an arm of the Justice Department, and Homeland Security agencies like the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose inspectors work the border crossings. What little information is shared often is inadequate or “stale,” too old to lead to any arrests or confiscations. Even within the ATF, information often is “not timely, well developed or actionable,” the report states, adding that joint operations including more than one agency are rare.

This could be the greatest cause for concern. Post-9/11 investigations found that lack of cooperation and communication caused information about possible terrorists or attacks to be lost, ignored or misrouted. The George W. Bush administration specifically ordered agencies to work more closely together. That was the primary idea behind the consolidation of most law enforcement agencies under the DHS.

Nearly a decade after those changes were implemented, it appears they haven’t achieved the intended result; agencies continue to isolate themselves, and don’t practice the kind of cooperation that could improve their operations — and their results.

Reports like this are part of the reason so many people familiar with our border operations just roll their eyes when alarmists demand new efforts to make our border impenetrable. If our agencies could just fix existing problems, more initiatives wouldn’t be necessary; and as long as they don’t, new initiatives won’t matter.