WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The head of the U.S. agency that oversaw a botched attempt to track arms flowing to drug cartels in Mexico is being reassigned to the Justice Department headquarters, the Obama administration said on Tuesday.
Kenneth Melson, who has been acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has been under fire and admitted mistakes in the sting operation meant to try to crack down on the flow of weapons to violent drug gangs.
He will be reassigned to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy as an advisor on forensic science, the Justice Department said. The U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, Todd Jones, will serve as acting ATF director.
One administration official said this is a chance for a “fresh start given everything they’ve gone through lately.”
The operation, dubbed “Fast and Furious”, has spawned congressional and internal Justice Department probes and put the Obama administration on the defensive about whether dangerous weapons were knowingly allowed to cross the border.
Republicans in the U.S. Congress have been demanding the Obama administration explain who knew what and when about the ATF program, which was conceived of and run out of the agency’s Phoenix division.
Numerous weapons from the operation, which began in late 2009 and ran through 2010, have shown up at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States.