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ATF staff warned to watch complaints

Two lawmakers say the director's message sounds like a threat to curb whistle-blowing.

July 19, 2012|Richard A. Serrano

WASHINGTON — The ATF's acting director has warned agents they risk "consequences" if they complain to anyone outside their chain of command -- which some Capitol Hill lawmakers interpret as an effort to stifle whistle-blowers.

In a video posted July 9, B. Todd Jones warns that agents and other employees should take complaints to their direct supervisors, not voice them outside the bureau.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday, July 23, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 2 inches; 79 words Type of Material: Correction
ATF complaints: An article in the July 19 LATExtra about the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives telling employees to take complaints to superiors, not the public, may have implied that the warning was prompted by employees' concerns about retaliation if they went public. Instead, ATF official John Hageman says, employees were concerned about the lack of accountability for those who do not abide by agency rules regarding going public with allegations of misconduct.

"Choices and consequences means simply that if you make poor choices, that if you don't abide by the rules, that if you don't respect the chain of command ... there will be consequences," said Jones, who was appointed to run the embattled agency after the Fast and Furious gun scandal, which was brought to light by whistle-blowers.

The video, shared with all employees, was one in a series of Jones' messages on how he plans to run the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

John Hageman, the ATF's acting chief of legislative affairs in Washington, said Wednesday that Jones taped the comments after visiting field offices, where he was often asked what would happen to employees who went public with allegations of misconduct.

"He regularly invites feedback and many employees' concerns have been about a lack of accountability for those who don't abide by agency rules," Hageman said. "That is what he set out to address."

The Phoenix-based Fast and Furious operation allowed hundreds of illegal gun sales in the hopes that U.S. officials could track them to Mexican drug cartels. Instead, most weapons vanished, and several turned up at crime scenes in the U.S. and Mexico. Two were found just north of the U.S.-Mexico border where U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was shot to death.

Jones' video prompted Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who have been investigating Fast and Furious on Capitol Hill, to write to him asking for clarification.

"Your ominous message, which could be interpreted as a threat, is likely to have a major chilling effect on ATF employees exercising their rights to contact Congress," Grassley and Issa said.

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richard.serrano@latimes.com

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