The Executive Army

The Executive branch of the American government is in bulk mode. Many of the major bureaucratic organizations that fall under the guidance of the Executive office are rapidly acquiring massive amounts of armament, from firearms & ammunition, to military transport vehicles, to drones. Open The Books (OTB), an organization dedicated to tracking federal spending in order to try to provide insight into what the government is using tax revenue for, analyzed the data in a report found here (includes links to the raw data for further analysis if desired). All figures and discussion in this article derive from their data.

In analyzing the federal spending data made available by the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (Public Law 109-282, 109th Congress), OTB categorized the government agencies into two primary categories: “Traditional Law Enforcement” and “Regulatory or Administrative”. Of those organizations designated as “Traditional Law Enforcement”, only 13 of the 67 Federal agencies fell into this category. Beyond discussing the 100+% increase in average yearly spending on firearms & ammunition across all organizations, this distinction makes it easier to discriminate between spending that theoretically correlates to organizational objectives vs. spending that generally does not.

Key Findings

Before diving into the details, let’s look at some high-level key findings of the report:

  • 67 non-military federal agencies spent $1.48 billion on guns, ammunition, and military-style equipment.
  • Of that total, ‘Traditional Law Enforcement’ Agencies spent 77% ($1.14 billion) while ‘Administrative’ or ‘General’ Agencies spent 23% ($335.1 million).
  • Non-military federal spending on guns and ammunition jumped 104%, from $55 million (FY2006) to $112 million (FY2011).
  • Since 2004, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) purchased 1.7 billion bullets, including 453 million hollow-point bullets. As of 1/1/2014, DHS estimated its bullet inventory reserve at 22-months, or 160 million rounds.
  • The Internal Revenue Service, with its 2,316 special agents, spent nearly $11 million on guns, ammunition and military-style equipment.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spent $3.1 million on guns, ammunition and military-style equipment. The EPA has spent $715 million on its ‘Criminal Enforcement Division’ from fiscal year 2005 to present, even as the agency has come under fire for failing to perform its basic functions.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) spent $11.66 million including more than $200,000 on ‘night vision equipment,’ $2.3 million on ‘armor – personal,’ more than $2 million on guns, and $3.6 million on ammunition.
  • The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service spent $4.77 million purchasing shotguns, .308 caliber rifles, night vision goggles, propane cannons, liquid explosives, pyro supplies, buckshot, LP gas cannons, drones, remote controlled helicopters, thermal cameras, military waterproof thermal infrared scopes, and more.

Here’s a chart of aggregated spending by year since the data became available in 2006:

Federal Agency Spending 2006-2014

We can see that yearly aggregated spending has hovered between the $100-$250 million range for all years that data was available, with a material uptick in the 2011-2013 years. As we near the 2016 Presidential election, I’d be interested in seeing a breakdown of current spending trends. Of the 1.48 billion dollars spent, $1.144 billion was spent by traditional law enforcement agencies vs. $335.1 million spent by “general administrative” agencies on guns, ammo, and military-style equipment. The following chart depicts the percentage split between the two categories:

Federal Agency Categorization Spending.PNG

As we can see, the bulk of federal militarization dollars were spent by traditional law enforcement agencies – 77% of spending, to be precise. However, that still leaves 23% of 1.48 billion dollars being spent on militarization by regulatory and administrative organizations. Despite being only an approximate fourth of total spending, $335,100,000 is still a massive amount of money for firearms, armor, military vehicles, and ammunition purchases.

Regulatory & Administrative Organizations

SCOPE: 53 Federal Agencies

TOTAL SPENDING: $335.1 Million

GUNS & AMMO: $172.737 Million

EQUIPMENT: $162.4 Million

There were 12 non-law enforcement agencies that spent over 1 million in military equipment, firearms, and ammunition:

Top Non Law Enforcement Over one million

The Obvious Outlier

There is an obvious outlier in the above data: the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, excluding National Centers (ASH). Why is ASH (an office within the Department of Health & Human Services) the agency of record for purchases up to $121.7 million in guns, ammunition, and military-style equipment – mostly for the Department of Defense and Special Operation Command (SOCOM)?

The ASH spokesperson contacted by Open the Books stated that a ‘coding mistake’ occurred on at least $112 million in procurement. This hid the transactions from DOD expenditures, and therefore, from scrutiny. Compared to other agencies, The ASH’s $121.8 million is in the same ballpark as the FBI’s $101 million, the Federal Bureau of the Prison’s $157 million, & U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s $162.6 million on guns, ammunition and military-style equipment.

Why is a domestic regulatory administrative agency (HHS) conducting straw purchases on firearms, ammunition, and military equipment procurement on behalf of the DoD/DHS?

Going further into the purchases, since at least fiscal year 2006, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) has purchased millions of dollars of a sophisticated military-style weapons platform. HHS OIG also contracted with some of the military’s top training consultant firms to train their OIG Special Agents in the tactics of domestic special operations, the same training that military special forces receive. Costs for these special training expenditures exceeded $1.5 million. The absurdity of the militarization of administrative bureaucratic organizations doesn’t end here; let’s now take a look at the militarization of everyone’s favorite government pals over at the IRS.

Internal Revenue Service

TOTAL SPENDING: $10.71 Million

GUNS & AMMO: $6.452 Million

EQUIPMENT: $4.258 Million

The Internal Revenue Service is tasked with assisting American taxpayers in meeting their legal tax requirement every year. In this mission, it employs 2,316 Special Agents to carry out this mission. These special agents are investigative forensic accountants who utilize specialized technology to discover complex tax evasion schemes. Their financial understanding and technical abilities are also used by counter-terrorism units and narcotics divisions of other organizations, lending their financial analysis knowledge and network tracking skills to map the movement of monetary resources throughout covert networks.

What’s new about the IRS, and specifically their special agents, is their significant spike in heavy-weapon armament investment. Here’s just a few items from among their recent purchases:

  • Glock 22
  • Glock 23
  • Glock 27
  • Remington 870 (shotgun)
  • Remington 11-87 (shotgun)
  • S&W M&P15 (rifle)
  • H&K 416 (rifle)
  • Night vision monoculars
  • Night vision scopes
  • Night vision adapters
  • Glock “Safe Action” Tactical Lights
  • Blackhawk body armor vests
  • Ballistic Shields
  • Body Armor
  • Bulletproof vests
  • Fire resistant safes
  • Marking cartidges
  • Stingray surveillance technology & Radio w/ Dual Mode (cell phone monitoring devices)

Here is a high-level examination of IRS militarization purchases:

Equipment Cost
AMMUNITION, THROUGH 30 MM $5,015,073.73
ARMOR, PERSONAL $3,678,337.25
GUNS, THROUGH 30 MM $1,430,484.46
GUNS, OVER 30 MM UP TO 75 MM $59,857.53
AMMUNITION, OVER 30 MM UP TO 75 MM $57,806.87

For their 2,316 special agents, the IRS has spent approximately $5,000 equipping each of them with firearms, ammunition, and military equipment, such as night vision scopes, rifles, and questionably legal communication monitoring technology such as the controversial Stingray technology. Either their agents are being increasingly used in a cross-organizational manner and are thus working in increasingly dangerous environments alongside counter-terrorism units and FBI units, or they’re increasingly militarizing for some other reason.

Environmental Protection Agency

TOTAL SPENDING: $3.11 Million

GUNS & AMMO: $1.72 Million

EQUIPMENT: $1.39 Million

The EPA does, in fact, have authority from Congress to engage in policing activities. In 1988, it established their internal Criminal Enforcement Program, intended to police those who threaten the people’s health & the environment. This program consists of a total of 375 employees, of whom 200 are termed “Special Agents” – the term for the Criminal Enforcement Program’s police officers. It is estimated that each EPA special agent costs $216,000 every year in training, equipment, and salary.

These 200 Special Agents are outfitted with state-of-the-art policing equipment & training. In addition to the guns, ammo, and equipment figures above, the EPA has spent $715,000,000 on its Criminal Enforcement Division since 2005. Despite spending three-quarters of a billion (billion with a ‘B’) on their supposed enforcement program, the agency has repeatedly come under fire from both the public & from Congress for failing to perform its basic functions.

So what does the militarization of an environmental regulatory look like, in line item format? Something like the following:

Equipment Cost
GUNS UP TO 30MM $1,400,000.00
BODY ARMOR (43 SETS) $43,733.00

As for why a bureaucratic organization (who fails almost entirely at their mission to prevent the damaging of the environment by mostly corporate actors) needs a paramilitary division, well…I’m still wondering that myself. I’m not quite sure that telling people “Don’t pollute” constitutes a need for drones, body armor, camouflage, night/thermal optics, and military-grade weaponry.

Why are we militarizing?

There are several possible reasons why we are seeing a major armament of these bureaucratic administrative organizations operating under Executive control.

Cross-Organizational Cooperation

Organizations like the IRS work alongside other departments at times, such as with counter-terrorism units investigating financial networks and the FBI in investigating organized crime syndicates. It is possible they are being armed and outfitted for field situations like these, where they might come into contact with dangerous individuals.

Enforcement Duties

There are some organizations, such as the EPA & the Department of Veterans Affairs, that actually do have legal enforcement capabilities.y. It’s notable the Department of Veterans Affairs major buildup occurred during the period that the VA failed to provide critical care for thousands of veterans who would later on waiting lists. It seems moderately reasonable to me that the enforcement divisions of these organizations might need a small amount of self-defense equipment, but why they have a need for anti-aircraft capabilities, night/thermal optics, body armor, and military transport vehicles to tell people to not litter? Well, that I am a bit perplexed about.

Hiding Purchases From Scrutiny

Another theory for the massive spending increases amongst these administrative offices is that they are simply serving as a means to conduct straw purchases for the DoD/DHS, without having the added scrutiny of the purhases that come with defense spending. This was the case with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, who hid 112 million in DoD purchases under his organization and tried to pass it off as a “coding error”. Prior to the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, these purchases would have gone unnoticed to the public eye.

Executive Distrust of the Military

The last, and final angle, through which I see this massive armament is through one of a hedging of bets. I have long wondered whether the Executive Branch feared the military, particularly with the reports that President Obama had purged dissenting military leadership during his tenure and had replaced them with those who were more suitable to his needs. [1, 2, 34] As shown in this graphic, the Executive Office has built itself an Executive Army, with their numbers totaling more than the entire US Marines, having received military training and purchased many forms of military equipment.


For my own thoughts, I suspect these organizations are purchasing these items for a few reasons:

  1. Because they have the extra money
  2. Enforcement tasks are becoming more dangerous as cross-organizational teams do more fieldwork (i.e., counter-terrorism, cartel investigations, etc).
  3. The US is still trying to be a first world country, despite having an increasingly third world population to manage. Thus, you get a bureaucracy that is armed to the teeth.

However, if one were more conspiratorial minded than I am, it would be an easy jump to the conclusion that the Executive office were hedging their bets against a possibly hostile military force. Perhaps they believe that the Executive Branch will be more loyal and less likely to support the “wrong side” in any sort of power struggle – a likely correct hypothesis, considering the demographics & political leanings of the bulk of the traditional Armed Forces. Either way, this recent spike in armament over President Obama’s tenure is a worrying trend. These organizations are notoriously opaque, decisions are made via committee to absolve individuals of responsibility, and they answer almost exclusively to the President. Any wrongdoings are rarely, if ever, examined and even more rarely punished. This is one reason why the militarization of the bureaucratic wing of the government is a negative thing; it is near impossible to get accurate information from the bureaucratic machine on their activities, or to even get justice upon those who commit injustice with the authority of the State. Who will watch the Watchmen? Who Manages the Managers?