The massive purchases of ammo and weapons by non-military federal agencies, like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Social Security Administration (SSA), that first began under the Obama administration has continued unabated under the Trump administration, while receiving less media coverage.
According to a report released last December by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and recently highlighted by Forbes, the mass purchase of ammunition, weapons and other military-grade items by ostensibly civilian government agencies has continued up through Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, the latest year for which data is available. The report also found that many agencies had misreported the amount and size of their ammo and weapons purchases to the GAO by a significant degree. In one case, the GAO found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had actually spent eight times more on weapons and ammo than it had disclosed to their office.
The budgets that had been proposed for FY 2017 — which ended on September 30, 2017 — had originally been drafted under the Obama administration but were amended by the Trump administration and the then-Republican-led Congress beginning in late January 2017 following President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The Trump administration chose to leave the massive purchases of ammo and weapons by non-military agencies as they were, despite the controversy they had caused among many Trump supporters and other groups when such purchases were made under the Obama administration.
Among the agencies that acquired ammunition, weapons and related equipment in FY 2017 were:
- The IRS spent $600,000 on ammunition but refused to disclose to the GAO its intended purpose and told the GAO that it could not provide data on firearms purchases. The IRS has stated in the past that such purchases are used in “investigating potential criminal violations of the Internal Revenue Code.” Its current inventory is estimated to include 4,461 firearms, including submachine guns, and over 5 million rounds of ammunition.
- The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) of the Department of Veterans Affairs purchased around 600 firearms and nearly 20,000 rounds of ammunition, along with riot gear and camouflage uniforms. The VHA has claimed that these purchases are for “enforcing federal law at VA medical facilities (and some National Cemetery and Benefits locations).”
- The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Social Security Administration (SSA) purchased around 300 firearms and 250,000 rounds of ammunition. The SSA’s OIG has stated that it uses these items for investigations into “wrongdoing by applicants, beneficiaries, contractors and third parties, and employees.”
- The National Park Service (NPS) of the U.S. Department of the Interior purchased nearly 2 million rounds, approximately 1,500 firearms, silencers, riot shields and batons, camouflage uniforms and “pyrotechnics and specialized munitions.” The stated purpose of these items is to protect “the safety and health of NPS visitors, partners, and staff, as well as our natural and cultural resources.”
Though those numbers certainly seem large — maybe even astoundingly so — on their own, they are part of a years-long effort that began during the Obama administration that has seen many non-military federal agencies arm themselves to the teeth.
DHS buys five bullets for every American man, woman and child
As the recently released GAO report notes, from FY 2010 to FY 2017, non-military federal agencies spent $1.5 billion on ammunition, weapons and military grade tactical gear. As an example, during that time frame, the VA bought 11 million rounds of ammunition, roughly equivalent to 2,800 rounds for each of its 3,957 officers. Similarly, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has purchased 4 million rounds over the past eight years and acquired 1 million rounds for use by its 461 special agents. The HHS has called its arms purchases “imperative.” In addition, the SSA bought 800,000 rounds for their 270 special agents during this period, amounting to nearly 3,000 rounds per agent. Even the U.S. Postal Service acquired significant amounts of weapons and ammunition.
These purchases in the past have been the subject of some controversy, such as the mass purchases of hollow-point rounds by government agencies including the Forest Service, National Park Service, Office of Inspector General, Bureau of Fiscal Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Hollow-point bullets are illegal under the Geneva Convention but government agencies spent at least $426,268 in just two years (FY 2015 and FY 2016) to acquire them.
Ammunition purchases by the Department of Homeland Security in 2013 were also controversial and were subsequently investigated by the GAO. DHS had claimed that is was buying over a billion rounds of ammunition, including hollow-point rounds, in order to “save money.” However, this has long been in doubt, given that hollow-point rounds are significantly more expensive than other rounds that do not expand upon impact.
At the time, Forbes noted that the massive ammo purchases by DHS could be used to sustain a “hot war” for more than twenty years, given that during the height of the Iraq War the Army used around 6 million rounds per month. With its planned purchase of 1.6 billion rounds, DHS would have ammo left over after matching the Army’s peak daily outpouring of hot lead for two solid decades….
There is no denying that these purchases represent a significant amount of government waste. More importantly, these purchases reveal the gradual yet continual effort to militarize federal agencies that have historically been administrative, a trend that should concern all Americans.
While the militarization of domestic police forces has attracted attention, it is equally important to ask why regulatory agencies are now so heavily armed, considering that virtually all of those pursued by these regulatory agencies are American citizens who are wanted for minor infractions or non-violent crimes. For instance, in 2016, the Department of Education sent armed U.S. marshals after Paul Aker over a $1,500 unpaid student loan. The armed officers arrived at Aker’s home with an arrest warrant, which resulted in a two-hour standoff. “I’m still shaken,” Aker said at the time. “Why send seven guys with guns about a student loan?” The DOE, during the last two years under the Obama Administration, increased its spending on guns, ammunition and military-style equipment by 25 percent….