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Obama nominates ATF director; bureau without one for four years

At a time when some members of Congress are advocating new gun laws and raising questions about the eligibility of the Tucson shooting suspect to buy a gun, it's worth noting that the agency responsible for enforcing federal gun laws has been without a director for more than four years.

Congress changed the law in 2006 to require that directors of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives receive Senate confirmation. Since then, there has been no confirmed director. All have been acting. During the George W. Bush administration, ATF's acting director was a commuter: Michael Sullivan was trying to run the agency, while also serving as the U.S. attorney in Boston.

The Obama White House did not nominate a director, Andrew Traver, until 23 months into the administration. Officials say a major problem was finding someone who would take the job. Several people, who were approached, said they did not want to get caught up in a confirmation process that would be long and tortured, these officials say. Others said even if they could get confirmed, they thought being ATF director would be a career-killer, given that the agency's powers are constantly in danger of being reduced in the face of aggressive lobbying by the National Rifle Association, administration officials say.

Traver, a career agent and chief of the agency's Chicago office, was quickly opposed by the NRA, dooming his prospects for confirmation.