If you were to check the manifest of recent acquisitions made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s internal audit division, you would discover that the group is the proud owner of 85 shiny new .40-caliber submachine guns, locked and loaded.
You read that right. And the USDA is not alone. Criminal investigators with other government agencies, including the Small Business Administration and NASA, are also authorized to carry.
These agencies are authorized to arm themselves thanks to an obscure provision in the 2002 Homeland Security Act. The USDA has been packing heat since 1981. Twenty-five other federal agencies gained that ability in 2002 with passage of the aforementioned law. Among them is the Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which in 2010 submitted a purchase order for 27 shotguns.
According to a 2012 report by the Department of Justice’s statistics wing, there were over 3,500 gun-wielding agents assigned to the various OIGs as of 2008, including 52 at NASA, 34 at the Small Business Administration, six at the National Science Foundation, and 28 at the Office of Personnel Management, the federal government’s human resources wing.
More sobering still is that Congress is in the dark about the number and nature of weapons these agencies have been stockpiling. So says Republican Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah. who told CNN:
Americans don’t see why dozens of federal agencies need their own highly armed police forces with the authority to raid homes and businesses.
When there are genuinely dangerous situations involving federal law, that’s the job of the Department of Justice, not regulatory agencies like the FDA or the Department of Education.
Stewart has called for a Governmental Accountability Office report on the issue and has introduced legislation this year to strip the OIGs of their guns.