The original article posted yesterday jumped the gun a bit (no pun intended). USDA confirmed this morning that there are two law enforcement agencies within the USDA: the Forest Service and the Ag Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG). The USDA submachine gun acquisition request was placed by the OIG. While the OIG typically addresses management issues within the agency, Ag's OIG has additional authority that actually predated the Inspector General Act of 1978 when most federal OIG offices were created. The USDA OIG is responsible for, among other things, food stamp trafficking investigations and violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Both sometimes involve situations with dangerous criminals. For example, food stamp traffickers are frequently involved in the drug trade and other criminal activities. The USDA OIG was the federal agency that investigated Michael Vick's dog fighting operation. A detailed report on their investigation can be read here.
The conclusion of the original article, however, remains accurate and relevant. With each new law passed by Congress, the federal government establishes both the regulatory and law enforcement functions to enforce it. And once a program is enacted it grows endlessly. For example, with about 1/6th of the population now using them, food stamps have turned into a virtual second currency. It stands to follow that criminals will find ways to exploit that currency.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has just submitted an acquisition request for .40 caliber submachine guns. Who will be using them? The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service? The Federal Crop Insurance Agency? The Food Safety and Inspection Service? Will they use them to shoot rats in food warehouses and grain elevators?
There is only one agency within the USDA that could justify the need for such weapons, the U.S. Forest Service. This is because much illegal activity goes on in national forests, over which the Forest Service has jurisdiction. This includes illegal poaching, marijuana cultivation, and other crimes. Some of those people are armed and dangerous. One might expect this to be a DEA or FBI responsibility, because of the drug nexus, but forest rangers know the terrain best. If it is for the Forest Service, then there at least is a rationale. Calls to the USDA to confirm this, however, have been so far unanswered.
There is another, more pernicious possible explanation however. Agencies tend to jealously guard their turf, and use it as an excuse to grow and expand all kinds of functions one would not normally consider under their purview. So rather than call in the DEA, the Forest Service instead jumped in enthusiastically to get its share of the drug enforcement money pie. A lot of this kind of expansion occurred following the 1989 creation of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (i.e. the Drug Czar). There was all kinds of "drug enforcement" money being proffered for agencies that became involved in President H.W. Bush's War on Drugs. I know that because as a budget examiner for the Office of Management and Budget I was directly involved in formulating budgets for a number of law enforcement agencies.
Since then the federal law enforcement function has metastasized. Most Americans are unaware that there are over 91 federal law enforcement agencies in existence today. When I was working there in the 1990s, there were about 72, so that is yet another growth industry for government, and a very dangerous one. And this growth has occurred despite the fact that creation of the Department of Homeland Security was supposed to consolidate agencies, not grow new ones.
This occurs everywhere governments are created however, and is why the founders specifically sought a federal government that was supposed to be limited. We can see today how the government has managed to get around that, but it has taken a long time. Don't let anyone tell you the Constitution is irrelevant. It is more important today than it ever has been.