Binh H. Nguyen 4 p.m., June 30
U.S. Marshals’ automatic weapons, $71,840 San Diego SUV hit by audit
Unauthorized automatic weapons and a costly sport utility vehicle used in San Diego on list of prohibited and improperly documented purchases made by U.S. Marshals Service
The United States Marshals Service has come under scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Inspector General over, among other things, unauthorized conversion of semi-automatic weapons purchases to those capable of fully automatic fire.
In a report released last month, entitled "Audit of the United States Marshals Service's Procurement Activities," the inspector general's office also calls out an improperly documented purchase of a sport utility vehicle for $71,840 that auditors said has been used for "mission related work" of the service’s investigative operations division in San Diego.
According to the document, Marshals Service policy
...strictly prohibits the use of fully-automatic firearms by the districts and divisions. An exception to this policy is provided for the Special Operations Group, but only during specially authorized missions. Firearms capable of burst-fire may be authorized at the district level by the U.S. Marshal or Chief Deputy and for Headquarters components by the Associate Director or Assistant Director.
"Burst fire," the audit goes on to explain,
...is an intermediate firing mode between semi-automatic and fully automatic. Semi-automatic mode allows the firearm to shoot a single round each time the trigger is pulled until all the rounds loaded in the firearm have been fired. Fully automatic mode allows the firearm to continue to shoot all the rounds loaded in the firearm with a single pull of the trigger until the trigger is released. Burst-fire mode allows the firearm to shoot a pre-determined number of rounds (usually two or three) with each pull of the trigger.
But the document says that an unnamed official managed to end-run standard procedure to obtain fully automatic weapons. One purchase order, the audit says,
> had been modified to convert a request for two semi-automatic firearms with the capability for burst-fire into a request for firearms capable of fully-automatic fire. There was no documentation of subsequent approval for the modified purchase order.
In this instance, the original requestor was the Chief Inspector for a regional office of the Witness Security Division. The original request for two firearms capable of 2-round burst-fire was approved by the division’s Assistant Director.
After the requisition was submitted to the Training Division, the Chief Inspector sent an e-mail to the Training Division Contracting Officer requesting a change from the firearms requested to firearms capable of fully-automatic fire.
The government's weapons merchant, the audit goes on to relate, later "identified the discrepancy and requested confirmation that the order was for the correct firearm type, noting the USMS policy against fully-automatic firearms."
But the sale went through anyway, according to the report.
The Contracting Officer noted in an e-mail to the vendor that he confirmed the desired firearm type with the requestor and verified the order.
Notes the audit:
The purchase of firearms, especially firearms that are specifically prohibited, without obtaining the required approvals, is a serious internal control failure.
After discussing this issue with Training Division officials, in June 2012 the officials told us that the two unauthorized firearms had been located and secured. In October 2012, Training Division officials stated that actions had been taken to convert the firearms to an appropriate trigger group that did not allow fully automatic fire. The Training Division officials also stated that they had implemented a new internal process where both the armorer and Deputy Assistant Director will review all firearms purchase requests.
The officials also told us that the purchasing officer will be instructed to not make any changes to a purchase after it has gone through the approval process and that any changes to an approved purchase must go through an internal review prior to being made. We believe that senior USMS management officials should ensure that these actions have been completed.
In the case of the San Diego sport utility vehicle, the auditors said they
...determined that in 2010 the USMS ...purchased four sport utility vehicles for $70,150 each, another such vehicle for $69,000, and another such vehicle for $71,840. The General Services Administration (GSA) is responsible for purchasing vehicles for federal agencies, unless the federal agency is given statutory authority or a waiver to make vehicle purchases.
The Assistant Chief told us he could not locate any evidence showing that a GSA waiver was obtained for the vehicle purchased for $71,840. However, the Assistant Chief confirmed that the vehicle without a waiver was assigned to the Investigative Operations Division office in San Diego and was being used for mission-related work.
The USMS’s Chief of Procurement confirmed that no documentation of a GSA waiver for this vehicle could be found and that the contracting official who made the purchase is no longer employed by the USMS.
Unless the required waivers are obtained to directly purchase vehicles, there is increased risk that the vehicles purchased may not be justified or may not be obtained at the best price.