WASHINGTON ― House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith, D-Wash., ripped the Trump administration for reinstating surplus military equipment transfers to U.S. civilian law enforcement agencies.
“This is a dangerous decision,” Smith said in a statement on Monday. “Providing these weapons can pose risks to our communities, undermine civil liberties, and improperly blur the line between military and civil authority.”
Trump on Monday lifted a controversial Obama administration ban on the transfer of weaponized aircraft, armored vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers, large-caliber weapons, ammunition and other heavy equipment from being used by state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies on America’s streets.
The transfers are covered by the “1033 Program,” named for the section of the provision of the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act that established it. Administered by the Defense Logistics Agency, it has transferred a broad range of equipment worth more than $6 billion to over 8,000 policy agencies across the U.S. since its inception.
But the program has been faulted by the Government Accountability Office for lacking management controls to prevent waste, abuse and fraud, which led to hundreds of millions of dollars in reported lost, damaged or stolen excess property.
A GAO sting, made public in July ,resulted in a fake police agency obtaining more than 100 items worth $1.2 million, including night vision goggles, simulated M-16A2 rifles and pipe bomb equipment, leading Pentagon officials to promise to tighten procedures.
In 2015, President Barack Obama had used an executive order to curtail the distribution of weapons following police use of military gear to quell protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the death of an unarmed black teenager.
On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the decision to reverse the Obama era decision at a gathering of the national Fraternal Order of Police in Nashville, Tennessee, saying the restrictions went “too far.” Sessions cited studies showing the equipment reduces crime rates, assaults against police officers and complaints against police officers.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., urged Trump and Sessions to reconsider his “mistake,” arguing in a New York Post op-ed that the move blurs the line between local law enforcement and soldiers. He said he plans to introduce legislation to stop the transfer of MRAP vehicles, drones and armored vehicles transferred through programs that are part of the Defense Department, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security.
“The militarization of our law enforcement is just another symptom of an overall problem that stems from an unprecedented expansion of government power — where we are repeatedly asked to make such ‘liberty for what we tell you is security’ tradeoffs,” Paul said.
Paul chairs the Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.