On May 7, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) posted a notice on the government's Federal Business Opportunities site in order to solicit bids on an undisclosed number of submachine guns. The notice read, in part,
"The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, located in Washington, DC, pursuant to the authority of FAR Part 13, has a requirement for the commerical [sic] acquisition of submachine guns, .40 Cal. S&W, ambidextrous safety, semi-automatic or 2 shot burts [sic] trigger group, Tritium night sights for front and rear, rails for attachment of flashlight (front under fore grip) and scope (top rear), stock-collapsilbe [sic] or folding, magazine - 30 rd. capacity, sling, light weight, and oversized trigger guard for gloved operation." [Note: spelling errors in original]
Speculation On The Why of Submachine Guns
When President Abraham Lincoln established the USDA in 1862, he called it the "People's Department." The USDA website lists its current areas of authority as: Assisting Rural Communities; Conservation; Education and Research; Food and Nutrition; and, Marketing and Trade. The agency has over 100,000 employees. Why do employees of the People's Department need semi-automatic machine guns to do their job? What would the job description be?
Second Amendment sites have speculated that the most likely recipients are agents of the US Forest Service (USFS) Law Enforcement & Investigations unit; the USFS falls under USDA control. Although this seems likely, there are also counter-indications. The solicitation notice makes no mention of the USFS, and those agents are already armed. The Wikipedia site on USFS states "Special agents are normally plainclothes officers who carry concealed firearms, and other defensive equipment..." Moreover, the weapon being solicited is typically used for close quarter operations, such as inside a building or into a crowd, rather than in an open or unpopulated area.
Several people have attempted to reach the two "public servants" listed in the notice as USDA contacts for interested weapon companies. Attempts to contact Linda F.B Josey, head of the Procurement Management Branch, reach an auto-reply that states she is "out for training." Desiree Clayton, the contracting officer, is "not in the office at this time."
The news site Politico managed to get an answer. Politico reported, "USDA spokeswoman Courtney Rowe says the guns are needed by the more than 100 agents employed by the law-enforcement division of the department's Office of the Inspector General. They've carried machine guns for 20 years, she notes. USDA OIG officers 'are placed in very dangerous law enforcement situations," another USDA official told POLITICO. 'They make arrests, they serve subpoenas and they engage in undercover operations'." What sort of "very dangerous law enforcement situation" does the USDA confront?
Assuming The USFS Is The Intended Recipient
The USFS is closely allied with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and often provides it with back-up. A key reason is because the two agencies share responsibility for managing an estimated 167 million acres of public rangeland in America, with the USFS presiding over more than half. The BLM recently laid seige to the ranch of Cliven Bundy. A timeline on the Bundy conflict provides insight into the relationship of the two agencies.
In March 1993, the BLM designated hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land in Nevada for conservation efforts and closed it off to livestock grazing. Since the 1930s, federal rangelands in Nevada have been managed primarily by the BLM (or its predecessor) and the USFS. Rancher Cliven Bundy called the BLM move a "land grab." He claimed Nevada owned the land and he refused to remove his cattle.
In 1995, the USFS was responsible for overseeing 7 million acres in Nevada and became quickly entangled in conflict with ranchers. In April 1995, USA Today reported,
Thursday evening, a small bomb went off in the U.S. Forest Service office in Carson City, Nev....
"If it was sent as a message," says Forest Service spokeswoman Erin O'Connor, "we got it." Ultimately the issue will be settled by the courts, but ranchers who say they can't afford to raise livestock without greater access to public land are taking matters into their own hands -- setting up what some officials fear is an inevitable and dangerous confrontation. The situation is becoming so tense that federal workers now travel mostly in pairs and are in constant radio contact with district offices.
"I'm concerned about the safety of my employees," says Jim Nelson, Forest Service district manager for Nevada. "They can't go to church in these communities without having someone say something. Their kids are harassed in school. Stores and restaurants are not serving them."
A year later, more pipebombs had exploded in the offices of the USFS and the BLM.
In 2002, another Nevada rancher was found guilty of grazing on federally-claimed land. His sentence affirmed the USFS's authority over the disputed area.
Skip forward to April 2014. There were a series of conflicts with the Bundys and their supporters on one side, and armed BLM and other agents on the other. A photojournalist described one incident. "We were on a bridge in southern Nevada in the midst of a tense standoff between the BLM and a group of angry ranchers, milita-members [sic] and gun-rights activists. It seemed as if we were a hair's breadth away from Americans killing Americans right in front of me." He reported "the man with a rifle beside me....aimed his weapon in the direction of [BLM] officers," and said "I've got a clear shot at four of them." Ultimately, no shots were fired.
Such stand-offs are undoubtedly among the "very dangerous law enforcement situations" that the USFS anticipates. The agency is hardly alone in stockpiling military weapons and ammunition. Bob Owens at the website Bearing Arms observed, "This is part of a trend to arm every branch of federal government, whether the individual agency has a legitimate need for a paramilitary force or not."
No agency seems innocuous or too small to avoid becoming paramilitary. On August 13, 2012, the Business Insider reported, "the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is looking for 46,000 rounds of ammunition for the National Weather Service."
After all, nothing says "public servant" like an armed enforcement agent who points a gun while checking the level of rainfall. That's especially true if he packs a submachine gun which ordinary Americans cannot obtain without a Federal Firearms License.