ATF Director Is Linked to Cost Overruns For New Building
Monday, February 6, 2006
The new headquarters of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the District is at least $19 million over budget at a time when the agency is considering sharp cuts in the number of new cars, bulletproof vests and other basics it provides agents.
The Justice Department inspector general's office recently received a complaint alleging that ATF Director Carl J. Truscott put through or proposed unnecessary plan changes and upgrades to the 438,000-square-foot building in the past two years, according to four sources familiar with the project.
Truscott met with Acting Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty last week to address some of the complaints, and quickly canceled some of the upgrades he had planned for the new headquarters, according to two sources familiar with these events. A Senate subcommittee is also looking into the cost increases.
Truscott planned to purchase, among other things, nearly $300,000 in extras for the new director's suite, including a $65,000 conference table and more than $100,000 for hardwood floors, custom trim and other items, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. ATF officials said that none of those upgrades has been approved and that the conference table was initially proposed by the architect and replaced in plans with one that costs half as much.
The Justice Department and the inspector general's office declined to comment. Truscott also declined to comment through the ATF press office.
Sources portray Truscott as preoccupied with the project. He has held numerous meetings, some focused on its tiniest details, such as paint colors and soap dishes, they said. He also has organized regular field trips to the building site with senior executives and photographers and has decorated ATF's current offices with oversize photos of the construction, they said.
The sources also said that some ATF officials object to the approximately $1 million annual cost of an extensive security detail for Truscott, who spent 22 years at the Secret Service before coming to ATF. The expenditures pay for five full-time agents and two armored Chevrolet Suburbans, which have not been made available to previous ATF directors or to the heads of comparable agencies, such as the U.S. Marshals Service, according to sources and government records.
ATF spokeswoman Sheree L. Mixell said a $12 million funding cut last year by Congress -- not spending on the building -- was a primary cause of current budget difficulties at the agency. She also said cost overruns for the new headquarters have not been excessive or unexpected.
"The building project is a long-term project that is important to the safety of ATF employees and to the agency's future," Mixell said. "ATF has a responsibility to complete this project."
But the sources said that cost overruns on the building consumed a $13.5 million budget surplus and millions of dollars more from ATF's current operating budget.
ATF officials declined to discuss details of Truscott's security arrangements, but said the agency was planning to increase security before his arrival in April 2004.
In December 2004, Truscott received upgraded protection comparable to that for the heads of the CIA, FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and NASA. The new arrangement was made retroactive to January of that year, legislative records show.