Homeland Security officials tried to mollify Congress' concerns over the department's ammunition purchases Thursday, but they may have made things worse by providing conflicting information that left House members fuming.
Department officials testified that their agents and officers average about 1,300 rounds of ammunition a year for training, qualifying and operations — about 1,000 more small-arms rounds than are assigned for every member of the military.
But lawmakers on a House investigative committee said the department contradicted itself on several accounts, including Secretary Janet A. Napolitano, who testified last week to another committee that her employees go through about 150 million rounds of ammunition in a year. The number is closer to 110 million.
"When the secretary of Homeland Security says it's 150 million rounds, and it's off by tens of millions of rounds — who's minding the store?" said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican and chairman of the national security subcommittee.
Mr. Chaffetz said he took a trip to the southwest border earlier this month and heard from three Border Patrol agents in three different sectors who said their ammunition supply has just been cut.
Nick Nayak, Homeland Security's chief procurement officer, said in his written testimony that the department is actually trying to cut down on its ammunition purchases because of tighter budgets. And he said the total number of rounds the department has options to buy is about 750 million over the next five years.
"I have no idea where the billion or over ever came from," Mr. Nayak said.
Mr. Nayak and Bert Medina, director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement National Firearms and Tactical Training Unit, also rejected fears of some gun owners that the ammunition purchases are meant to crowd the market so civilians can't buy any.
They said Homeland Security's purchases come to about 1 percent of the total number of rounds manufactured in the U.S. every year.
The department is trying to recover its footing after months of speculation about the ammunition buys, which officials initially ignored.
Ms. Napolitano said last week that she didn't think anyone would actually believe the reports, and she specifically questioned the credibility of the Drudge Report, which linked to several of the stories posing questions.
Since then the department has tried to clarify what it's doing — though with varying success.
"You've got a credibility problem — plain and simple," said Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican.
Homeland Security said it had 263 million rounds of ammunition stockpiled as of November, which is more than two years' worth.
In 2012, the department used 88.3 million rounds for training, and 27.9 million rounds for operational purposes. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, used the most ammunition at nearly 38 million rounds, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement used more than 28 million rounds.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat, wondered why the department needed to have any inventory at all.
"Can't you just order ammunition as you need it?" she asked.
The officials said that would be a problem because of the long lag time on contracts, and also because they sometimes have trouble getting ammunition that meets their standards.
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