WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today called on the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a new assessment on the effectiveness of efforts by the U.S. government to curb the trafficking of firearms to Mexico. In a letter to GAO Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro, Rep. Engel requested information on the progress of agencies across government in meeting challenges in combating illicit sales of firearms in the United States and stemming their flow into Mexico, including federal laws that restrict the collection and reporting of data on firearms purchases.
“We must do much more to stop the illegal flow of firearms from the United States to Mexico. In 2009, the Government Accountability Office released a report that I commissioned on this issue. It showed that 87 percent of the firearms Mexican authorities seized and traced between FY 2004 and FY 2008 originated in the United States,” Rep. Engel said at a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the state of relations between the United States and Mexico.
Text of the letter to GAO Comptroller General Dodaro follows.
May 20, 2014
The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20548
Dear Comptroller General Dodaro:
Firearms trafficking from the United States to Mexico continues to fuel violence by the country’s brutal transnational criminal organizations. In June 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a review of firearms trafficking to Mexico and reported that 87 percent of firearms seized by Mexican authorities and traced between FY 2004 and FY 2008 had originated in the United States.
GAO found that U.S. government agencies faced several significant challenges combating illicit sales of firearms in the United States and stemming their flow into Mexico, including federal laws that restrict the collection and reporting of data on firearms purchases. Your report also drew attention to the lack of effective coordination between the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the primary agencies responsible for combating firearms trafficking. Similarly, GAO reported on impediments to collaboration between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement agencies, notably concerns about corruption among certain Mexican governmental entities. At that time, GAO made a number of recommendations to the U.S. Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Director of the Office of Drug Control Policy to address the deficiencies identified in government efforts. I understand that agencies have taken action on all of your recommendations but one, focusing on the need to report on constraints they previously identified to their efforts to conduct investigations.
I am particularly interested in knowing what progress our government continues to make regarding the challenges the report identified. As such, I request you undertake a follow-up review of U.S. efforts to stem the flow of firearms into Mexico and address the following questions:
1) What have been the trends in firearms trafficking to Mexico over the past five years? Please provide information on the annual percentage of firearms recovered in Mexico and traced which originated in the United States, the types of firearms smuggled into Mexico and whether the U.S. remains a significant source of illicit firearms used to commit crimes in that country. Please also provide information on the annual percentage of firearms recovered in Mexico and traced which were trafficked from the United States but were originally imports into the United States from third countries. To the extent possible, please identify what countries these firearms came from.
2) How has collaboration between the Department of State and U.S. law enforcement agencies with Mexican counterparts evolved over the past five years? How effective has the deployment of Spanish language eTrace been in tracing firearms seized in Mexico?
3) To what extent do eTrace numbers reflect the total amount of firearms trafficked from the United States to Mexico?
4) To what extent has the Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy advanced U.S. government efforts to combat arms trafficking? What actions, if any, have U.S. law enforcement authorities taken to stem the flow of firearms to Mexico from the Southwest border region?
5) To what extent have U.S. government agencies improved efforts to collect and report data related to illicit firearms trafficking to Mexico? Specifically, have the Departments of Justice and the Homeland Security effectively collaborated on efforts to collect and report data on firearms seizures, investigations, and prosecutions of arms traffickers? Similarly, has the Department of Justice taken any steps to address the data collection constraints its officials noted during your prior review that were inhibiting their ability to conduct timely firearms trafficking investigations?
6) The State Department has indicated that the United States is in compliance with the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials (CIFTA). Can you please review and confirm the validity of this assessment?
7) To what extent are U.S. government agencies providing support to the Mexican, Guatemalan and Belizean governments to stop firearms trafficking at their shared border? Please assess the effectiveness of any assistance that is being provided.
During the review, please keep Eric Jacobstein on the House Foreign Affairs Committee staff apprised of your plans and the progress of your work.
Eliot L. Engel