By Adam Andrzejewski for the Daily Caller Foundation | May 6, 2023
For at least a decade, Americans have grown increasingly cynical about what used to be some of our nation’s sacred institutions — from disparate outcomes when the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or Department of Justice get on the case, to a litany of attacks on the Supreme Court’s impartiality.
The skepticism has become pervasive enough that the new House majority in Congress has stood up a Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. They are investigating efforts by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to gather information on Americans, and whether there is bias in ongoing investigations and free-speech matters.
That weaponization may be real, although it’s figurative.
But parallel to that, the federal government has quite literally been arming itself to the teeth! The number of federal bureaucrats who are now authorized to carry guns and execute arrests now outnumber the entire United States Marine Corps, which has 186,000 enlisted.
Two hundred thousand federal employees can carry, and we aren’t talking about just FBI agents or Drug Enforcement Agency employees. Departments from Health and Human Services (HHS) to Interior, from agencies like NASA to the IRS all have stockpiles of guns, ammunitions, and military-style equipment.
Last year, our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com found 103 executive agencies outside the Defense Department spent $2.7 billion on this gear between 2006 and 2019 — and 76 of them are not traditional law enforcement but pencil-pushing agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency or Department of Agriculture.
As of March 2023, that figure had jumped again to $3.7 billion, meaning the spending rate is steadily increasing.
Why does NASA need a team outfitted with SWAT-like equipment and armored vehicles? Why did Health & Human Services need to spend $154 million on guns and ammo since 2006? Its 500 armed special agents place it among the top 100 local police departments by headcount. How is the Department of Veterans Affairs using the 4,000 armed officers they now employ?
IRS, with its confiscatory powers, is growing its ranks after the passage of the so-called Inflation Reduction Act and has spent $35.2 million on weapons and gear since 2006, $10 million of that in the past three years alone. Who do they plan to fight?
When government officials do answer, it’s usually in vague terms, citing a need to send enforcement officials into potentially dangerous situations.
HHS, for example, commissioned a training facility, the National Training Operations Center, somewhere inside the Beltway, with its planning overseen by a private vendor called Fentress. The Fentress website no longer hosts the announcement they released detailing the project, but our auditors captured that it was for “ensuring operational readiness by maintaining all emergency response equipment” and “was intended to act as a crisis room or command post for the HHS headquarters staff.”
Since when do health officials need a “command post?”
Today, the lines are being blurred between general administrative agencies and traditional law enforcement.
As RealClearInvestigations journalist Mark Hemingway reported last year, “Critics say allowing federal agencies to perform their own law enforcement removes an important layer of accountability that existed when unarmed federal investigators were forced to cooperate with local authorities.”
Indeed, complicated problems abound with allowing these functions to proliferate outside of traditional law enforcement agencies. But when it comes to how tax dollars are used, one thing is abundantly clear: the government needs to get its arms around how much deadly equipment is laying around, how often it’s used and why.
There is no clear individual or entity that bears responsibility for cataloguing these weapons and ammunition stockpiles, how secure they may be, how frequently guns are discharged or the rationale. Though training facilities exist, it’s not clear whether every bureaucrat receives comparable training across the board. How safely are these weapons stockpiles stored and accounted for?
So, first, secure the gun lockers. Congress should use its oversight authority to ensure there is a uniform reporting standard for how many weapons, rounds of ammunition and other military-grade weaponry we have, and how all of it is housed and maintained.
Second, Congress should use its legislation authority to re-organize the arrest and firearm authority in the traditional paper-pushing, civil regulatory agencies — and bring those powers back to the traditional law enforcement agencies at the Department of Justice and Homeland Security.
Without such measures, the size, scope and power of federal agencies will continue to grow unabated. And as government grows, individual freedom and liberty shrink.
Adam Andrzejewski is CEO and Founder of OpenTheBooks.com, the largest private database of U.S. public sector expenditures.
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