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ATF retirement highlights questionable assignments under Jones, source claims

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The ATF supervisor, who oversaw the “Operation Fearless” Milwaukee storefront fiasco before being transferred to Phoenix is retiring, the Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday. Bernard “B.J.” Zapor opted to leave the bureau rather than accept reassignment to head the Newark office, the story reports.

That’s the culmination of a series of “musical chairs” personnel moves involving Zapor that, per a whistleblower source, have been unwarranted, needlessly expensive, and ultimately, politically protective of management.

Less than a year ago, Zapor, who had been “serving as Deputy Assistant Director, Field Operations -- Central, with oversight of the Special Operations Division and ATF Field Divisions in 14 States” before the Milwaukee fiasco was exposed, was then reassigned to head the Phoenix Field Division, the office that oversaw Operation Fast and Furious “gunwalking.” That in turn elicited a sharp reaction from Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley.

"Why would you put him in charge of an office that so clearly needs good leadership?" Grassley asked then-Acting Director B. Todd Jones in writing. Jones punted, citing the federal Privacy Act as justification not to answer Grassley’s questions.

"I can state I am confident that Mr. Zapor is well qualified to provide strong and effective leadership in Phoenix," Jones wrote back.

If that was the case, the decision to move Zapor to Newark makes little sense, except when placed in the context of information shared with Gun Rights Examiner and partially corroborated by the news account of his retirement.

“Zapor has strong connections to the Phoenix area,” the Journal Sentinel reports. “That is the office where he began as an agent, and he has owned property in the area. Sources said the move was a demotion, but it also allowed Zapor to finish his career in the area he planned to retire, saving him the cost of the move.”

Zapor had made no secret of his personal reasons for wanting to get and keep the Phoenix assignment, this column’s source agrees. But last week, the source alleges, management pressured him to retire in July, mere months after Jones had told Rep. Jason Chaffetz, under oath in a House Oversight Committee hearing, that the decision to entrust Phoenix to Zapor was “based on performance” [see embedded hearing video, above]. The informed opinion is that Jones has been under pressure to hold somebody accountable for Milwaukee, and came to realize that the move he’d expressed “total confidence” in to Congress just wouldn’t cut it.

If an attempt to force Zapor’s retirement was made, as alleged, punishing an employee twice for one “violation” would have proven problematic due to ATF disciplinary policies, and could have subjected the Bureau to an employee lawsuit. Having that thrown back at them is what prompted management to offer the Newark assignment instead of forced retirement, the source maintains. Per information the source finds credible, management counted on that offer stymieing any threat of a "double jeopardy" legal response. At the same time, management had good reason to believe the Newark offer would result in voluntary retirement by an employee who had strong personal incentives to turn down an undesired lateral transfer.

Problem solved? The story's not over.

Adding wasteful organizational decisions into the sequence of personnel moves is ATF’s selection to replace Zapor in the top slot at Phoenix: Thomas Atteberry, a deputy assistant director who had already served in that position after replacing current Deputy Director Thomas E. Brandon, who briefly held the job after management transferred out William Newell (on whose watch guns walked).

Atteberry was sent to headquarters as a deputy assistant director when Zapor was sent to Phoenix as the SAC, the source states, further claiming the government moved them with all that entails, including substantial expenses involving real property as well as relocation. Now, in less than a year since putting Zapor in the Phoenix slot and vigorously defending that move on multiple occasions, management has created a situation inducing him to leave and putting Atteberry right back into the slot they moved him from.

Aside from raising questions about continuity of effective management, this also makes it fair to ask if Director Jones answered based on his best knowledge at the time when asked about the advisability of putting the Operation Fearless guy in charge of the Operation Fast and Furious office. Not that an answer will be forthcoming. The “retirement,” along with a Privacy Act fallback, effectively stymies any congressional inquiries into personnel decisions, so all we’re left with are assurances from the top brass that all is well and they've got everything under control.

Meanwhile, grumblings from whistleblowers and disillusioned agents about agency waste and abuse continue, just as were happening back in 2009, when this column first requested Congress to determine the truth of veteran agent allegations.

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