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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has existed under a variety of names going all the way back to 1866, when it was known as the "Revenue Laboratory", and was part of the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
In 1968, the name was changed to the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Division of the IRS, and in 2002, it became the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The Homeland Security act of 2002 created the Department of Homeland Security, and also transferred control of the new bureau to the Department of Justice. At the same time, a new bureau, called the Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau was created to deal with the revenue generated from alcohol and tobacco products. THIS bureau remains as part of the Treasury Department.
For most of its history, the director of the bureau has been an appointed position. In 2006, Federal law was changed, and the position of the director now required Senate approval. Due to the lobbying power of the NRA, the Senate has been unable to find a PERMANENT director for the position of director since 2006. There have been FIVE acting directors since 2006. The current director, B. Todd Jones, assumed the role on August 31, 2011, and was recently nominated by President Obama to be the permanent director.
Allowing the NRA to control who runs the ATF is similar to allowing the Koch brothers to determine who runs the EPA. "Self regulation" of the banking and securities industries hasn't worked out very well either.
Realistically, it would be virtually impossible to change the position back to an appointed position, and even THAT would have its pitfalls. Like you, I'd be unlikely to approve of any of the choices made by President Romney.
For now, all we can do is to write to our Senators and urge them to approve Mr. Jones as the permanent director. I wrote to John McCain this morning to give him my opinion. Since the OTHER senator from Arizona, the appropriately named Jeff FLAKE
received $322,000 in help from the NRA to secure his senate seat in November, writing him about the topic would be an absolute waste of time.