The U.S. Senate is finally considering the nomination of U.S. Attorney for Minnesota B. Todd Jones to be the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, but he got a testy reception from at least one senator Tuesday.
President Obama in January nominated Jones to lead the troubled agency, but the nomination has been stalled in part by political bickering. He appeared Tuesday morning in the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify at a hearing on his nomination, which is subject to full Senate approval.
Jones, 56, has been acting director of the bureau since August 2011.
Jones' nomination has been controversial. He's been accused of mismanagement and targeting whistleblowers. Among Jones' critics has been Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who has previously raised concerns about Jones.
Grassley on Monday outlined issues he had with Jones' work in Minnesota and what, if anything, Jones might have known about the agency's "Fast and Furious" gun-smuggling sting operation, the focus of federal probes, the Associated Press reported.
Grassley has said the Obama administration had not provided the panel with information senators needed to properly consider the nomination.
"Why are we even here today?" Grassley asked, the AP noted. "That's a question I don't think anyone can answer."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who led the hearing, said it was "wrong" that the Senate had delayed the appointment of a permanent ATF chief.
Jones leapt to his own defense Tuesday morning, telling the Senate panel that the ATF was "in distress" when he took the helm, FOX 9 reported.
"There had been a lack of strong visionary leadership, and of accountability and attention to detail," Jones said in an opening statement.
Here's a copy of Jones' prepared statement. In it, he offers info about his professional background, including details about his service with the U.S. Marine Corps, and his start in public service working for Sen. Hubert Humphrey.
The ATF is an agency within the Justice Department with nearly 5,000 employees and a $1.1 billion budget. It is charged with regulating the gun industry, among a wide array of other responsibilities, including reducing violent crime and preventing terrorism. ATF agents were among those who rushed to the scene of the Boston bombing, as well as to the scene of a plant explosion in West, Texas, earlier this year.
But the agency, which has been beset by scandals, including the Fast and Furious scandal, has been without a permanent director for almost seven years, largely due to political sparring. Gun lobbyists have sought to undercut the agency and pushed to limit its power and slash bureau funding, the New York Times reported earlier this year.
A lack of permanent leadership has hurt the agency, observers say, NPR reported last month.