The FBI’s main NICS page has been updated with working links to most monthly reports on NICS: Federal Denials (still stands at 57 firearms denials to ex-citizens, down from 58 two months ago), Total Checks, and Top 10 Highest Days/Weeks. However, the same page gives an incorrect link for the Active Records report, which would include information on how many Certificates of Loss of Nationality the FBI received from the State Department in the preceding month: if you follow that link you’ll get a “this page does not seem to exist” 404 error message.
At first glance this just looks like a URL redirection hiccup in the Plone Content Management System which the FBI uses to run their website. But oddly, if you go to the URL where you’d actually expect the Active Records report PDF file to appear (by analogy to the still-working URL from two months ago — the URLs generally end with the date on which the report was issued in MMDDYY format, and all the other latest reports for this month have a date of 3 October 2013), you don’t get that same “this page does not seem to exist” message; instead you’re redirected to the top page, which shows a message about the government shutdown: “Due to the lapse in government funding, information on this website not directly related to the protection of life and property will not be routinely updated”.
While the IRS’ list of “published expatriates” in the Federal Register is late the majority of the time — more than a year late, in several cases — the FBI has always been quite punctual with their monthly reports on NICS, making this instance of tardiness the first since we began tracking.
I’m not sure on what basis the FBI would have decided that the Denials and Total Checks reports are “information directly related to the protection of life and property” but the Active Records report is not. Alternatively, this strange situation may have been caused by some other kind of technical or administrative error which no one knows how to correct because the IT Operations staff are all on unpaid leave. Anyway, it’s not clear whether this delay will persist only until the end of the government shutdown, or whether the FBI will simply not release an Active Records report this month at all and make us wait until November to find out the latest trends in citizenship renunciation, dishonourable discharge, and mental illness.
NICS and the shutdown
Last week, there were contradictory reports about whether the National Instant Criminal Background Check System itself would continue to operate during the government shutdown. CNN claimed that “if you want a gun permit or a passport, that won’t happen anytime soon”. In contrast, various local media sources (in Ohio, California, and Michigan, for example), as well as interest groups, have stated that NICS itself continues to operate, even if some of its reports are late.
What is popularly called a “government shutdown” in reality means only that the U.S. federal government is operating at reduced capacity. According to the Department of Justice contingency plan, out of 150,000 employees (including those in the FBI and all other DOJ sub-agencies), half are “employees necessary to protect life and property” and another 20% are exempted from furlough for other reasons. Furthermore, funds for NICS are flowing quite freely: as recently as a month ago, the DOJ announced in early September that it would provide $900,000 in federal funds to South Carolina to ensure that NICS will include people who have been declared mentally incompetent by state courts. (No word on whether they’ll provide any funding to State to help them overcome their hilarious inability to maintain a count of people giving up U.S. citizenship.)
The Washington Times quoted Attorney-General Eric Holder’s comments on the shutdown:
People are trying to make a political point, and I’m trying to run a Justice Department. We’re trying to keep the American people safe. We’re trying to keep crime down. We’re trying to go after financial crimes. There are a whole range of things that we are simply trying to do …
It is entirely possible that we will have to put on furlough FBI agents, prosecutors as a result of … the dysfunction that exists primarily in the House. That is going to have a disruptive impact on the work of the Justice Department … This has real-world consequences for the employees of this department, who have to pay mortgages, who have to pay car notes, who have to buy groceries. And I think that is something that people, as they’re trying to make their political points … need to keep in mind, that there are good, hardworking Americans who are going to suffer because of this dysfunction.
Of course, in the process of going after “financial crimes” like Americans abroad who dare to have “offshore” bank accounts across the street from their homes & offices, the federal government is also making “good, hardworking Americans suffer because of this dysfunction” and causing “real-world consequences” for people “who have to pay mortgages, who have to pay car notes, who have to buy groceries”. Oh well, right? I guess we’re the eggs who get broken so others can have their omelettes.