Internal memo shows ATF rank and file don't trust the brass

Top leaders at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, already under fire from lawmakers in the wake of the “Fast and Furious” debacle, also get harsh marks from the men and women who serve under them, according to an internal survey.

An ATF memo obtained by reveals that rank-and-file workers at the beleaguered federal agency, where whistleblowers who first alerted lawmakers to the “gun-walking” scandal say they were threatened or even punished, don’t trust the agency’s leaders.

“A key area in which ATF fell short was leadership,” the e-mail from ATF Headquarters, describing the results of the internal survey, reads.

“Most troubling were responses to the question – ‘My senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.’”

Just 44 percent of ATF employees said that their leaders maintained such standards last year, according to the Partnership for Public Service, the non-profit that administers the annual survey to government employees.

On “leadership effectiveness” in general, ATF scored a 40.5, placing the agency nearly last among government agencies, at 215th out of 228 agencies surveyed. That rating was the first since the "Fast and Furious" scandal broke, and it is down 10 percentage points from the year before.

Asked by about the survey, ATF spokesman Drew Wade acknowledged the Fast and Furious scandal has taken a toll on morale.

"The controversies plaguing ATF over the last year have weighed heavily on the morale of employees and their faith in senior leadership," Wade said. "Mistakes were made."

But he said ATF leadership is working hard to change.

“Acting Director [B. Todd] Jones has put new leaders in place in new positions to enhance the quality of leadership and take ATF in the right direction. The new leadership team is working hard to earn [the] trust again of employees," Wade said.

Vince Cefalu, an agent who helped expose the “Fast and Furious” scandal, said it is "too soon to tell" whether ATF will turn things around. For now, he says, the survey results don’t surprise him.

“Guess I and [the other whistleblowers] weren’t the only disgruntled malcontents, were we?” he said, sarcastically referring to what he believes were attempts to marginalize him and others who came forward.

Cefalu says his own situation is a case study in ATF dishonesty. The ATF attempted to fire Cefalu last year, after the “Fast and Furious” scandal broke, but so far has been unable to do so because Cefalu has accused them in court of retaliating against a whistleblower. Now, he said, he is given no assignments.

“I am sitting in Lake Tahoe drawing $150,000 [a year from ATF] to do absolutely nothing,” he said.

Others at ATF who took the survey told that ATF's treatment of whistleblowers affected the ratings they gave.

"I gave them a low rating," said an ATF manager who spoke to on condition of anonymity.

"In the midst of the Fast and Furious investigation... [ATF leadership] sent a letter to Senator [Charles] Grassley [R-Iowa], saying ‘these whistleblowers are lying,’" he explained. "There's no integrity."

He added that while ATF says it has now replaced old leadership with new players, the old leaders never get fired.

"Where are we, 15, 16 months outside of Brian Terry's murder? Nobody's been held accountable for anything," he said, referring to a border patrol agent who was killed with an illegal weapon that was allowed to enter Mexico as part of operation Fast and Furious.

The problem goes deeper than Fast and Furious, he added.

"When a manager gets caught in an unethical or unlawful act, the only ‘punishment’ that comes with it is a taxpayer-funded move. You'll retain full pay, full benefits, and we'll pay to move you, usually to headquarters in DC."

ATF scores well in some other aspects of the employee survey. In “pay,” it rates eighth out of all 228 agencies. The average salary for an ATF employee is $96,370 per year.

"Our pay and our benefits are good," a special agent, who spoke to on condition of anonymity, said. "Some people work for it and earn it, and others not so much."

He added that in his experience, more than half of the agency’s leadership was "more problem than solution."

"They're abusive, self-serving characters," he said.

Despite their grievances, the agents interviewed by Fox expressed hope that the bureau will get its act together.

“I think there is an air of, 'we want to get better,'" Cefalu said. "They haven't implemented anything yet, but the initial steps are  transparent and up-front."

Cefalu and the special agent interviewed said that Tom Brandon, the new deputy director at ATF, is held in high regard by field agents.

"I think he will try to change things," the special agent said. "Whether he will have the ability, due to the culture here, is anybody's guess."