Criminology Essays - ATF Department Treasury

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ATF Department Treasury

The ATF was formerly part of the United States Department of Treasury, having been formed in 1886 as the "Revenue Laboratory" within the Treasury Department's Bureau of Internal Revenue. The history of ATF can be subsequently traced to the time of the revenuers or "revenoors" and the Bureau of Prohibition, which was formed as a unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue in 1920, was made an independent agency within the Treasury Department in 1927, was transferred to the Justice Department in 1930, and became, briefly, a subordinate division of the FBI in 1933.

When the Volstead Act was repealed in December 1933, the Unit was transferred from the Department of Justice back to the Department of the Treasury where it became the Alcohol Tax Unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Special Agent Elliott Ness and several members of “Untouchables”, who had worked for the Prohibition Bureau while the Volstead Act was still in force, were transferred to the ATU. In 1942, responsibility for enforcing federal firearms laws was given to the ATU.

In the early 1950s, the name of the Bureau of Internal Revenue was changed to "Internal Revenue Service" (IRS), and the ATU was given the additional responsibility of enforcing federal tobacco tax laws. At this time, the name of the ATU was changed to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division (ATTD).

In 1968, with the passage of the Gun Control Act, the agency changed its name again, this time to the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Division of the IRS and first began to be referred to by the initials "ATF." In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed an Executive Order creating a separate Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms within the Treasury Department.

In the wake of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush signed into law the Homeland Security Act of 2002. In addition to creating of the Department of Homeland Security, the law shifted ATF (and its investigative and regulatory inspection functions) from the Treasury Department to the Justice Department.

The agency's name was changed to the "Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives" in recognition of the agency's role in explosives regulation and enforcement. However, the agency still was referred to as the "ATF" for all purposes. Additionally, task of collection of federal tax revenue derived from the production of tobacco and liquor products originally handled by ATF was transferred to the newly established Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which remained within the Treasury Department. These changes took effect January 24, 2003.

For my final project I was tasked to interview an individual in the field of work I want to pursue with my Criminal Justice degree. The individual I’ve chosen to interview is Special Agent Nick Starcevic with the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosive (ATF). Special Agent Starcevic grew up in Valparaiso, Indian where he worked for the local and county law enforcement as a detective for 12 years. He attended Purdue University and received his Bachelors in Computer Technology.

He decided to join the ATF while working undercover with agents from the ATF. The ATF agents he was undercover with told him “since you are a Bomb Tech and have been doing undercover work, you are a perfect match to be a Special Agent in the ATF.” He stated that “he was the Captain of Detectives, which to get any higher in the chain of command I would have to be appointed by the sheriff, which then I would acquire the rank Chief Deputy. That wouldn’t allow me to do detective work no longer.” The major factor of him becoming an ATF Special Agent was the fact that he wouldn’t be allowed to continue being a Detective if he was to achieve another rank. He enjoys the fast and exciting life of being a detective, which joining the ATF gives him just that.

Its responsibilities include the investigation and prevention of federal offenses involving the unlawful use, manufacture, and possession of firearms and explosives, acts of arson and bombings, and illegal trafficking of alcohol and tobacco products. The ATF also regulates via licensing the sale, possession, and transportation of firearms, ammunition, and explosives in interstate commerce. ATF is responsible for regulating firearm commerce in the United States.

The Bureau issues Federal Firearms Licenses (FFL) to sellers, and conducts firearms licensee inspections. The Bureau is also involved in programs aimed at reducing gun violence in the United States, by targeting firearm law violators. ATF was also involved with the Youth Crime Gun Interdiction Initiative, which expanded tracing of firearms recovered by law enforcement, and the ongoing Comprehensive Crime Gun Tracing Initiative.

ATF also provides support to state and local investigators, through the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) program. With the passage of the Organized Crime Control Act (OCCA) in 1970, ATF took over the regulation of explosives in the United States, as well as prosecution of persons engaged in criminal acts involving explosives. One of the most notable investigations successfully conducted by ATF agents was the tracing of the car used in the first bombing of the World Trade center in 1993, which lead to the arrest of persons involved in the conspiracy.

Personal qualifications to become an ATF Special Agent are no walk in the park.

  • You have to be a U.S. citizen since you will be required to have a Top Secret security clearance.
  • If applicant is male and born after December 31, 1959, the applicant has to be registered with the selective service system.
  • Possess a current and valid automobile operators license.
  • Complete ATF special agent applicant questionnaire.
  • Take and pass the Treasury Enforcement Agent (TEA) Examination.
  • Take and pass the ATF special agent applicant assessment Examination.
  • Be in compliance with the ATF’s drug policy for special agent applicants.
  • Pass a physical examination.
  • Take and pass a drug test.
  • Take and successfully complete a polygraph examination.
  • Successfully complete a background investigation for a top secret security clearance.

(ATF Publications 2310.4 January 2004)

This is considered a high risk job and there will be no exceptions to these requirements. The application process can take over a year, and there aren’t always openings. Like Special Agent Starcevic said, “There might be an opening for 100 special agent billets, but you could have 100 individuals from each field office apply for those.” He also stated, “Most ATF agents retire, very few get out early.” That says a lot about the ATF, but there aren’t that many openings.

All ATF agents have to complete an annual Ethical Standards class online. I couldn’t find any publications to show what they do. I can assume it’s like the military. You have to know what’s right and wrong. If you believe someone is doing anything un-ethical report it to a supervisor. Ethical standards should be the same while you are at home or while you are at work.

This was a wonderful interview and I look forward to applying for this job one day. It is a real close knit agency with roughly 6,000 employees. The ATF has a lot to offer for the few that can get in. The agents are one of a kind and work hand to hand with all law enforcement agencies local and federal. Thanks for your time and hope you enjoyed reading this essay.


Annual Report of the Commissioner of Industrial Alcohol. Washington, D.C., 1931 - 1933.

Annual Report of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue. Washington, D.C., 1863 - present.

Annual Report of the Commissioner of Prohibition. Washington, D.C., 1927 - 1930.

ATF Facts - History. Washington, D.C., n.d.

A Report on The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Its History, Progress and Programs. Washington, D.C., 1995.

United States Government Manual, 1994/1995, Washington, D.C., 1994. See pp. 496-498