Federal regulatory agencies' SWAT-like teams have found a major opponent in Congress.
Rep. Chris Stewart says he is concerned about the trend in recent years of numerous federal regulatory agencies creating their own special law enforcement teams to conduct arrests and raids. That includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Food and Drug Agency and the Department of Education, says the Utah Republican.
Stewart, first elected in 2012, says the problem stems from the creation of the 2002 Homeland Security Act. That law, a reaction to bureaucratic bungles before 9/11, gave most Offices of Inspector General authority over arrests and firearms.
"It's disturbing to see the stories of federal regulators armed to the teeth and breaking into homes and businesses when there was no reason to think there would be resistance," Stewart said in statement.
"I understand that federal agents must be capable of protecting themselves. But what we have observed goes far beyond providing necessary protection. When there are genuinely dangerous situations involving federal law, that's the job of the Department of Justice, not regulatory agencies like the FDA or the Department of Education. Not only is it overkill, but having these highly-armed units within dozens of agencies is duplicative, costly, heavy handed, dangerous and destroys any sense of trust between citizens and the federal government."
Stewart cites several examples of federal agency overreach. In July 2010, a multi-agency taskforce, including armed officers from the Food and Drug Agency, raided a Venice, Calif. organic grocery store suspected of using raw milk. Then there was a June 2011 incident in which armed federal agents with the Department of Education's OIG broke down the door of a Stockton, Calif. home at 6 a.m., and handcuffed a man suspected of student aid fraud.
Stewart's legislation would repeal the arrest and firearm authority granted to Offices of Inspectors General in the 2002 Homeland Security Act. It would also prohibit federal agencies, other than those traditionally tasked with enforcing federal law - such as the FBI and U.S. Marshals, from purchasing machine guns, grenades, and other weaponry regulated under the National Firearms Act.
The proposal would also directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to write a complete report detailing all federal agencies, including Offices of Inspectors General, with specialized units that receive special tactical or military-style training and that respond to high-risk situations that fall outside the capabilities of regular law enforcement officers.
"The militarization of agencies is only a symptom of a much deeper and more troubling problem within Washington - " that the federal government no longer trusts the American people," Stewart said. "When all of us feel that we are no longer seen as citizens but as potential dangerous suspects - a relationship of trust is impossible. I'm working to restore and rebuild trust - beginning with this effort to defund paramilitary capabilities within federal regulatory agencies."