Since then, Senate Republicans have indicated they may block Jones’s appointment and have demanded to know more about his role in several operations and policy decisions. They have also expressed lingering suspicions about the agency, noting that it has been dogged by a series of debacles, some of them self-inflicted.
In the face of those obstacles, administration officials say they remain hopeful that the national debate over guns will compel the Senate to act on the nomination.
“It’s always been an uphill climb for any ATF nominee, but considering where we are at this moment in time, if there was going to be a confirmation, this is as best a time as ever,” said a Justice Department official who was not authorized to discuss the nomination publicly. “The landscape has changed. You have a lot more Democrats, and even some Republicans, who are saying, common-sense-wise, we need some reforms.”
Despite the growth of the gun industry and the U.S. population, the ATF has fewer than 2,500 agents, below what it had more than four decades ago. . The agency has a budget of about $1.1 billion. But ATF officials say the agency has the capacity to inspect only a fraction of the nation’s 60,000 retail gun dealers each year, with as many as eight years passing between store visits.
The lack of leadership has sapped morale at the agency, which Jones has attempted to revive since he became the agency’s part-time, acting director in September 2011.
“Todd Jones was dealing with the consequences of a broken agency,” said one ATF official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the agency. “We had lost our way. He wanted to get us refocused on our core mission of fighting violent crime.”
It is unclear whether Jones, a federal prosecutor in Minnesota and a former Marine, will get the opportunity. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, is demanding Justice Department documents and a formal interview with Jones before any hearing on his nomination.
Among other issues, Grassley and other lawmakers are demanding answers about the role Jones and his staff played in a flawed sting operation in Milwaukee and in a controversy in which Grassley has accused the Justice Department and city officials in St. Paul, Minn., of collusion.