Rep. Darrell Issa has subpoenaed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for information about what he calls a "dangerously mismanaged" program, which originally was launched to get crime guns off the street.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which Issa chairs, has been looking into complaints about the program for months. Under the operation, ATF agents set up storefronts in multiple cities to try and entice criminals to sell their crime guns, unwittingly, to the government so they could be traced. But their tactics and missteps, including using mentally disabled people, drew criticism.
Issa, R-Calif., claimed this week that the ATF has stonewalled him by withholding documents and shown a "complete lack of cooperation."
"I have no choice today but to issue the enclosed subpoena," he wrote to ATF Director B. Todd Jones. "... The time for hollow promises is over."
Details on problems with the program first emerged last January, when The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported on missteps in Milwaukee under the program known as Operation Fearless. In that operation, thousands of dollars in merchandise, as well as several guns, were reportedly stolen from ATF agents.
Details of other similar operations in other cities later emerged, including claims that one operation was located across the street from a middle school. House committees are now investigating, on the heels of the controversy over the botched anti-gun trafficking Operation Fast and Furious.
ATF agents, though, have defended the storefront program, saying lawmakers overstate the problem.
"Putting this into context, there were deficiencies with the storefront operations, but there have been many successes and it still remains a viable technique when managed well," ATF Deputy Director Tom Brandon told lawmakers recently.
The operation in Milwaukee, despite its flaws, resulted in dozens of arrests.