NFATCA Report: A Look at ATF Forms Processing
By John Brown

The NFATCA has been working with the National Firearms Act Branch (NFA) each year to look at what is actually happening with forms processing. Many of you have had the opportunity to even be a guest at one of a half dozen events each year where either the NFATCA or someone from the NFA Branch presents the facts about what is happening in terms of forms being processed and why it always seems to take so long for forms to be approved. Many of you have looked at the numbers and wondered, “How in the world does the NFA get so much accomplished with so few resources available.” In this article we will give you an update on the numbers and what is happening to all of the forms that we submit each year. Most importantly, we will look at the average time that it takes to get a form through the NFA Branch, from start to finish over the last five years.

Before we look at the numbers I would like to return to some of the earlier articles that we published to remind you of the things not to do when it comes to the forms process. 35% of the forms that are being submitted have some sort of problem with the submission. It is a major miracle that anything gets done with so much work having to be resubmitted or errors or omissions having to be corrected. It is a simple matter of “garbage in, garbage out.” Take into consideration that in addition to the forms processing issues, bad checks, no checks, or missing complimentary information like finger print cards or citizenship forms cause many submissions to be sent right back to the originator with a correction letter requiring a resubmission. I recently had the opportunity to chase down a couple of cases where forms looked like they were taking nearly a year to get approved only to find out that the originator had been a major source of the problem. Incorrect forms took four months. A resubmission took another two months, and the consequent return because of yet more omissions caused the same cycle to start all over again. What could have taken four months had bumped up against nearly a year simply because the originator failed to follow instructions. One particular transfer, although touted as a major problem caused by the NFA Branch, was in reality a time warp caused by the originator.

It is always a good idea to let your dealer walk you through the entire process and double check everything. Capitalizing on the experience of the dealer can’t hurt the effort and will certainly serve as that extra person checking your work. After all, that is their business and they are the ones that have the closest relationship with their assigned examiner. When there is a problem many of the examiners know your dealer well enough to make that call and discuss the issue with your dealer to help get things straightened out. We tell dealers every day that dealing with your examiner doesn’t have to feel like a call or a trip to your local DMV office. I have personally met and spoken with every single examiner at the NFA Branch. Under the leadership of Ken Houchens, Gary Schaible, Steve Albro, and most recently Ernie Lintner, these guys have developed a terrific team. If you are the dealer, make it your business to get to know your examiner. They collectively are one heck of a group doing their best to service the industry.

If you don’t believe this then take into consideration that in the last year some of the top talent at the NFA Branch processed over 7,000 forms several months in row. In simple terms these examiners were processing over 300 forms a day or nearly 38 forms an hour. With nearly a 35% error rate you simply must ponder how this all works.

If we look at the forms processing and what is really happening at the Branch, it is truly amazing that so much work can be completed when in fact we as an industry submit so many errors. This brings me to my last point: calling the NFA Branch. Examiners are flooded with phone calls every day and it seems that no matter how many times we ask for the industry not to call, people still can’t help themselves and call anyway. In a recent visit to the NFA Branch we determined that examiners literally lose nearly 25% of their processing time to phone calls. Unfortunately, many of the calls are made without proper information to make the request. Worse than anything are those in the industry that call every single week just to check the status of the same transfer. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Branch had to implement a customer service group in an attempt to fend off the onslaught of calls. Even with this step in place callers still ask for examiners by name and circumvent a process that was intended to help us all and to expedite requests on the status of transfers. To put it simply, stop an examiner from performing their work and your transfer is going to take longer. If you absolutely positively can’t help yourself, have your dealer do the checking for you. They have the closest relationship with the NFA Branch and should know how to find out the information that you need. Ask for the right help at the right time.

Transfer times for forms are getting better. Prior to, and following the Presidential election, transfer times jumped through the roof and it seemed to take forever to get a form approved. It was obvious from the numbers then that NFA paperwork under this particular political environment had nearly doubled from a year ago. Things are getting better as slow as it may feel. Between changes in process at the NFA Branch and the addition of new examiners, the numbers are decreasing slowly but surely. In the following chart you can examine and see the comparison for the last five years for each category of form that the industry has submitted. This is our first look at transfer times for nearly eighteen months and the numbers tell some interesting tales. In addition to what we are suggesting in this article, the NFATCA always suggests that if you need help in any of these areas, serving the industry is our mission. Call an NFATCA board member and ask for help. No issue is too large or too small to ask for the right assistance. We suggest joining the NFATCA forum and sharing issues concerns and getting the right answers to your questions the first time. We want to help you.

At this point if you are still one of those people that are saying, “What have you done for me lately?” don’t miss the boat any longer; come join the only organization in the country that is watching over every single NFA issue possible: and all of this energy, just for you, the NFA owner. Come join the NFATCA today by visiting us at www.nfatca.org.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V13N10 (July 2010)
and was posted online on March 23, 2012


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