By Allan Lengel
A big shakeup has begun at ATF.
Thomas Brandon, who had recently been sent from Detroit to head up the Phoenix Division and clean up the fall out from Operation Fast and Furious, will become the agency’s deputy director — the number two person.
The acting number two person, William J. Hoover, will move from headquarters to head up ATF’s Washington Field Office. And Mark Chait, Assistant Director of Field Operations, will head up the Baltimore Division.
At headquarters, Mark Potter, former head of the Philly office, who recently was named Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations for the Western Region of the U.S. and International Operations, will become the ATF Assistant Director for the Office of Management. Larry Ford Will become Assistant Director of Office of Field Operations. Julie Torres will become Assistant Director of Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations.
Other changes are as follows: Gregory Gant will become the Assistant Director of Public and Governmental Affairs; James McDermond will return to the Office of Science and Technology as the Assistant Director; Theresa Stoop, head of the Baltimore Division, will become the Assistant Director of the Office of Human Resources and Professional Development; Vivian Michalic will become the Deputy Assistant Director of Office of Management and will remain the Chief Financial Officer for ATF; and Melanie Stinnett will become Deputy Chief Counsel of ATF.
The shakeups come in the midst of a Congressional inquiry into Operation Fast and Furious, a failed operation that encouraged Arizona gun dealers to sell to straw purchasers, all with the hopes of tracing the weapons to the Mexican cartels. Some of those guns have surfaced at crime scenes on both sides of the border.
They also come as the new acting director B. Todd Jones moves to try and resurrect an agency that has been suffering from a severe case of low morale.
Reaction inside and outside ATF about the appointment of Brandon was met with praise.
“He’s a straight shooter, extremely competent, and he wants to do what’s right,” said one veteran ATF agent.
Andrew Arena, who heads up the FBI in Detroit, where Brandon was special agent in charge until recently, said:
“He’s one of the top officials I‘ve ever worked with in nearly 24 years of law enforcement. He gets what the mission is and he’s not into turf battles. He’s about getting it done.”
And Barbara McQuade, the U.S. Attorney in Detroit said “You’ll never meet a more dedicated law enforcement professional than Tom Brandon. He’s incredibly hard working, no ego and just cares about getting the job done. He’s everything you would want in a public servant.”
The change also come as the White House’s nomination for permanent director, Andrew Traver, remains in limbo. The NRA and other gun-rights groups have opposed his nomination, which has stalled in the Senate. Observers say the nomination is likely to simply die. Traver heads up ATF’s Chicago office.
Brandon might have a better chance of getting confirmed as director. That being said, the Obama administration isn’t like to spend political capital trying to get a director confirmed before the November 2012 election. Jones, who is also a U.S. Attorney in Minnesota, is expected to stay on as acting director at least through the end of President Obama’s first term.