WASHINGTON -- President Obama indicated on Wednesday that along with asking members of Congress to pass measures like an assault weapons ban, he would be ratcheting up pressure on lawmakers to do something they have refused to do for the past six years: confirm a permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
At a news conference at the White House to unveil a series of executive and legislative actions to help reduce gun violence, the president said Wednesday that he would nominate the agency's acting director, B. Todd Jones, to be its permanent leader.
Mr. Jones, 55, a former Marine who is also the United States attorney in Minnesota, has led the beleaguered agency since August 2011, when he was appointed by the administration to take over in the wake of the scandal surrounding the bungled gun trafficking investigation known as Operation Fast and Furious.
"Congress needs to help rather than hinder law enforcement as it does its job," President Obama said Wednesday. "We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals. And we should severely punish anybody who helps them do this."
"Since Congress hasn't confirmed a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in six years, they should confirm Todd Jones," he added, "who has been acting and I will be nominating for the post."
Until 2006, the president had the power to install the bureau's director without Congressional approval. But under pressure from gun lobbyists, Congress changed the law that year to require Senate confirmation. Since then, the Senate has failed to confirm any nominee by either President George W. Bush or President Obama as senators who support gun rights have used their power under Senate rules to delay votes on nominations; Mr. Jones is the bureau's fifth acting director since 2006.
One of the more vocal critics of the Justice Department and the firearms bureau, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said on Wednesday that he agreed with the president that it was time for the Senate to confirm a permanent head of the agency, but he raised questions about Mr. Jones's credibility.
"The new nominee, B. Todd Jones, is a familiar face to the committee, but his ties to the Fast and Furious scandal raise serious questions," Mr. Grassley said.
Nonetheless, Mr. Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Mr. Jones would receive "a thorough and fair vetting" by the committee.
The firearms bureau came under scrutiny in 2011 for its handling of Fast and Furious, in which agents lost track of firearms they were allowing to pass into Mexico. Two of those firearms were later found at the murder scene of a United States border patrol agent in Arizona.
At a briefing with reporters in September, on the day the Justice Department's inspector general released a report on the operation, Mr. Jones acknowledged that during his tenure as acting director, the agency had refocused its efforts on fighting violent crime and had revamped its policies and procedures.
"We are recalibrating how we do business at A.T.F.," Mr. Jones said.
"We are well on our way to tightening up our unity of effort and our communications," he said, adding that senior officials in Washington now had more oversight over the agency's field offices.
Mr. Jones said that some of the procedures he changed had not been updated in 15 to 20 years.
"We are back to the basics and that is what I have been working very hard at, the fundamentals and the fundamentals for us is protecting the American public from violent crime," he said.
Mr. Jones has directed the agency's field offices to focus on working closely with police departments in large cities at combating sudden increases in crime and "to focus on cases that will have the greatest impact," instead of focusing on the smaller "run-of-the-mill cases," said a senior agency official in a recent interview.
"Sometimes people want to be all things to all people, and we lost track of the fact that we should be fighting violent crime" and protecting the public, the official said.
This year, A.T.F. agents have been part of so-called surges of law enforcement officers in the country's most violent cities, including Philadelphia, New Orleans and Oakland. As part of those surges, agents have policed the streets with local law enforcement officials, arresting violent felons and seizing guns.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.