B. Todd Jones, a former Marine and U.S. attorney, was sworn in Thursday as head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, ending the agency’s seven-year wait for a new permanent director.
Jones, 56, had been serving as acting ATF director for two years since being appointed by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to clean up the agency in the wake of a botched gun-trafficking operation.
ATF agents, hoping to track weapons from U.S. dealers to Mexican cartels, permitted more than 2,000 illegally purchased firearms to hit the streets between 2009 and 2011 as part of Operation Fast and Furious. Some of those weapons were subsequently discovered at the scenes of fatal shootings.
Jones is the first Senate-confirmed head of the ATF, which regulates firearms and investigates gun and explosives crimes and has 4,800 employees.
For the past two years, Jones has juggled his acting director role with his job as U.S. attorney for the District of Minnesota, a position he left last week and which he said was “the best job in the world.”
Addressing about 300 dignitaries and ATF employees at the agency’s headquarters in Northeast Washington after taking the oath of office Thursday afternoon, Jones began his speech by joking about the long wait for a permanent director.
“Finally,” he said, to loud laughter from the crowd. “No more actings, no more temporaries, now it’s on me — and I feel the weight.”
The last permanent ATF director, Carl J. Truscott, resigned in August 2006 during a probe into spending on the agency’s new headquarters. He was the last director before the role required Senate confirmation, and since then there has been a series of acting appointees, partly because the gun lobby opposed previous picks.
The National Rifle Association remained neutral on Jones’s nomination. He was confirmed after a nearly four-hour procedural vote that required Democrats to stall for time while Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) flew back from her home state.
Jones said in his speech that when he was appointed acting director two years ago, “the ship had run aground and was taking on water.”
“The last 10 years have been a rocky road . . . you’ve long deserved a permanent director, someone to set the tone and temperament of the organization.”
Jones, who spent many years as a defense counsel and prosecutor in court-martial proceedings and has also worked in the private sector, warned of a few “self-absorbed and self-involved . . . independent operators” who ignore “sound, professional standards.”
But he praised the agency’s often-unsung work in the aftermath of recent attacks including the Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., shootings and the Boston Marathon bombing, saying: “Our investigators and agents filled an invaluable role. We will roll our sleeves up, we will get into the ditch, we will do the job.”
“Because of your dedication and your commitment, I believe we are no longer a law enforcement agency in distress, as we were two years ago,” he added.
President Obama nominated Jones weeks after the Newtown school shootings, with the president asking the Senate to confirm a new ATF director as part of sweeping proposals to prevent similar attacks.
In a concluding rallying cry, Jones said that it was “time for us at ATF to bring our A-game . . . to protect the American public from violent crime. And on my watch, that’s what we’re going to do.”