As part of President Obama’s gun control plan he has included a request to have his nominee for director of the ATF be confirmed. Prior to 2006 the director of the ATF did not require Senate confirmation. Since 2006 there has not been a permanent director of the ATF.
The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms has had a problematic existence. In 1951, as part of tax increase legislation, the name of the Bureau of Internal Revenue was changed to The Internal Revenue Service. The IRS was responsible for collecting the excise and license fees that the liquor and tobacco industries paid to the federal government. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division of the Treasury Department was responsible for monitoring illicit production, distribution, and revenue fraud
In 1968, in response to the violent assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Congress passed the Gun Control Act. Firearms became part of the portfolio of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division. In 1972 it become an Independent agency, The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, and was responsible for revenue collection and preventing illicit distribution and fraud. Once firearms become part of the BATF the agency gained a perpetual enemy in the guise of the NRA.
It is this enmity that has prevented a permanent director from being confirmed. During the Regan administration the NRA nearly succeeded in disbanding the agency. The BATF has remained a weak agency.
The most well knows incident that many feel revealed the incompetence of the Agency is the massacre in Waco in 1993. Despite the fact that many people believed that the government action at Branch Davidian represented an overreach of federal power, a subsequent investigation determined that the BATF had not used excessive force.
In January 2003 the BATF split into two bureaus. The duties of tax collection and regulation of production, labeling, marketing and advertising of alcoholic products went to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) while the law enforcement aspect of the ATF became the responsibility of the Justice Department. These changes were part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and were a consequence of the events of September 11, 2001.