U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it possesses a “limited amount” of 9mm bullets for agents in the field as well as for training purposes, and it is rationing its ammunition based on internal requests until it can award a new contract.
It is one of several federal law-enforcement agencies that say they are reaching a “critical stage”: Their 9mm ammunition is being depleted and tens of thousands of service handguns are approaching the end of their life-cycle, too.
The apparent role poor planning, or another agenda, played in the issue came to light when ICE said it would have run out of 9mm ammo by June 2017 in the absence of a modified contract with its supplier, Vista Outdoor Inc. So, the agency last month approved a $363,307 ceiling increase to contract No. HSCEMS-11-D-00002.
The ICE Office of Firearms and Technical Programs, or OFTP, then ordered more ammunition in March, according to a Justification and Approval, or J&A, document that WND located through routine database research.
But if it were not for the J&A’s sloppy redactions – the contract ceiling-extension cost, for example, was partly covered by what appeared to be faded black-marker ink, as were references to annual ammunition purchases under the original contract – the public would remain further in the dark about this questionable acquisition process.
And if it had not been for this partially readable document – which was approved by Lowell Johnson, OFTP Supervisory Engineer-Ballistics Laboratory – taxpayers would have remained unaware that no record exists to prove that this procurement was ever opened to competition in the first place.
An exhaustive search of the database – which included multiple keyword and archive-record searches – produced zero results for solicitations or calls for bids that should have preceded ICE’s awarding of a contract for 9mm bullets in September 2011.
Though unrelated to the ammunition acquisition, the agency during the same month it awarded the $4.9 million ammunition contract did not fail, however, to post information about a Media Monitoring Services award worth $25,000 that it gave to a vendor named TV Eyes.
This pattern of unexplainable – indeed, unjustifiable – redactions and omissions reflects a nearly DHS-wide pattern of secrecy that WND recently uncovered specific to no-bid, non-competitive contracts.
DHS’s failure to adequately answer questions about that pattern – and its failure thus far to respond to WND’s follow-up inquiry – once again raise this question: What is DHS hiding?
9mm electronic trail
What remains particularly unclear is why ICE failed to prepare for this purported ammunition depletion sooner than it did. According to the partial record, the agency as early as Sept. 29, 2011 – the start of the original base-year contract – knew it would be legally obligated to open the process once again to competition within five years.
But the supposed depletion of its 9mm ammunition stores nonetheless arrived, even though – before that initial year ended – the agency identified a need for more 9mm ammunition and swiftly approved a J&A to raise the contract ceiling.
The recent admission of a shortage:
It vaguely attributed the necessity of that increase to “unforeseen changes in policy,” offering no details about which changes to which policies had taken place.
ICE subsequently exercised all four option years through Sept. 28, 2016, each year purchasing 2,950 additional cases of Speer 9mm Luger +P (124 grain jacketed hollow-point) duty ammunition.
Prior to the end of this five-year period of performance, or POP, the agency exercised an “Option to Extend Services,” stretching the POP from Sept. 28, 2016, to March 29, 2017, via contract amendment No. P00012.
ICE then bought another 1,475 cases of the ammunition.
Last month, a separate J&A was approved to raise the cost ceiling once again.
Despite its long-term anticipation of the contract’s end date – and in spite of the agency’s repeated extensions and cost-ceiling expansions – the agency now emphatically claims competitive bidding, at this time, is out of the question.
Engaging in such an open competition would prevent ICE, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, and the Federal Protective Service, or FPS, from complying with firearms-proficiency requirements and from performing their law enforcement duties, the J&A said. (A service agreement enables FPS – which provides armed security to various federal buildings and facilities – and CBP to buy ammunition through the ICE procurement process.)
Despite the recent redaction of the initial and overall contract’s cost, the agency in 2012 had already uploaded notification of what it labeled as a contract award for nearly $4.9 million.
Here’s the poorly redacted online document:
However, in light of that document sharing an identical amendment number (P00002) with the latest J&A document, the notice clearly was mislabeled as an award notice rather than as a J&A.
Though ICE apparently launched the 9mm ammunition procurement in 2011, a gap remains in the digital trail that otherwise would have shown when and how the process began. The missing and redacted documents, therefore, keep this process away from the reach of full public access and potential scrutiny.
DHS: New questions
In light of this incomplete record, WND posed the following questions via email to the DHS press office:
1) If these assessments by the agencies are accurate, why has DHS allowed this situation with firearms and ammunition to reach such a “critical stage”?
2) Is the mission of these agencies being thwarted because of weapons and ammunition issues?
3) Specific to solicitation No. 192112NFU0000345 in the ICE contract award, there is no available evidence that this procurement was ever subject to competitive bidding before the first contract was awarded in 2011; if this acquisition was not made through the competitive bidding process, why not? What is the justification? If this was simply a matter of failing to upload the solicitation, call for bids, or request for quotations to FedBizOpps, please provide me with the relevant document, which currently is not available through FBO.
ICE has since deemed Vista Outdoors as a qualified vendor in the continue provision of these supplies to OFTP. The agency said in the J&A that Vista has a demonstrated record of performing its duties “at a satisfactory level” as the company currently ships 9mm ammunition worldwide to various DHS component locations.
In the meantime, however, “there is an insufficient volume available on hand (both in the field and with OFTP),” ICE claimed in the J&A, acknowledging that ICE facilities are required to have, at a minimum, a quarter year of ammo in their vaults.
ICE cannot substitute weapons and ammunition by using other caliber handguns in its arsenal.
Indeed, the agency additionally justified the continued no-bid contract and ceiling increase by noting it has “insufficient .40 caliber handguns available to replace the 9mm handguns that are currently in service, so that is not a viable option.”
Though ICE may not have enough of other handguns available to substitute 9mm firearms in the event the agency runs out of that ammunition, the agency apparently does not – and likely will not – face such a shortage of .40 caliber bullets.
The Winchester division of Olin Corp. has begun providing – according to ICE’s own estimates – up to 50 million rounds of .40 caliber training ammunition. Even though the agency awarded Winchester a contract with a value “not to exceed $50 million,” ICE in the Sept. 11, 2014, contract award explicitly pointed out that the “estimated total procurement will be 50,000,000 rounds per year for a total of 250,000,000 rounds.”
ICE and OFTP said in the recent J&A that they are conducting market research and already have contacted ammunition providers in anticipation of issuing another call for bids for 9mm ammunition. They expect to award an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract in FY 2017.
CBP separately is scrambling to replace “52,000 handguns currently in service,” the majority which “are nearing the end of the expected life span for a handgun,” the agency said in a recently updated Request for Information, or RFI, via Solicitation no. 20094778.
CBP’s Law Enforcement Safety and Compliance Directorate, however, “has no available contract to replace or replenish these aging handguns.”
The agency said it recently began performing market research in order to formulate the best approach to acquiring new weapons.
This assessment of “potential handgun technologies and production capacity of U.S. handgun manufacturers” has been taking place since Jan. 31, which it established as the deadline for responses to the official RFI, initially released in December.
Though CBP made clear it would not award contracts as a result of the RFI, the agency estimated that eventually it could purchase 30,000 to 70,000 handguns, including service weapons as well as non-firing training models and “virtual simulator” guns.
In addition to contacting DHS for a statement, WND also contacted the National Border Patrol Council, or NBPC, to elicit comment on whether the age of the handguns – and the absence of a contract to replace them – was an impediment to agents carrying out their duties.
A call to Shawn Moran, NBPC vice president-media relations, thus far has gone unreturned.