As day 21 of the government shutdown dawned and 5,000 special agents, analysts, and staff are not allow to report for duty, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is feeling a financial squeeze that could, agents fear, affect national security. The majority of FBI agents, considered essential personnel, are working without pay.
CNN reports that President of the FBI Agents Association, Tom O’Connor, says that operations are being hindered. He, and the agents he represents, believes that the agency needs to be fully funded during the shutdown.
On Thursday, the FBI Agents Association warned the White House about the impact the shutdown is causing in the bureau in a petition signed by agents across the country. The petition warned that lack of funding could “create delays in securing or renewing security clearances” and said that “pay uncertainty undermines the FBI’s ability to recruit and retain high-caliber professionals,” according to CNN.
Nathan Catura, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, told Reuters that FBI agents are being forced to do their own background checks instead of analysts, who are specialists in this work, doing them. This slows down investigations into terrorism and white-collar crime.
In addition, intelligence gathering is also affected because the funds to pay informants will soon be exhausted. Sources have told CNN that while agents have been told to safeguard at-risk investigations by making payments to their informants, it is possible that funds have been withheld in some cases.
Josh Campbell, former FBI special agent, explains why this lack of funding is vital to the work the bureau does.
“Agents build trust with people and recruit them to help, and these informants often get paid in return,” said Josh Campbell, a former FBI supervisory special agent and a CNN law enforcement analyst.”Being unable to pay informants destroys that relationship of trust that is so key to recruiting people to report crime,” Campbell added.CNN
Per Washington Post, Tom O’Connor says that investigation are being affected because funding for things like undercover drug buys is running out.
Catura also spoke about the effect the shutdown is having on the 27,000 federal agents his association represents. He said, “You feel like a pawn in this big political windstorm. You feel like you’re not worth anything.”
Per the Washington Post, the petition from the representatives of the FBI Agents Association that was sent to the White House explains that FBI agents are “are subject to high security standards that include rigorous and routine financial background checks. . . . Missing payments on debts could create delays in securing or renewing security clearances, and could even disqualify agents from continuing to serve in some cases.”
O’Connor says the partial shutdown, over funding for the border wall President Trump wants, is shaping up to be one of the longest in history and is “uncharted territory”. Agents are frustrated that they are being reduced to pawns in a budgetary fight that has nothing to do with them.
Retired FBI supervisor, Dave Gomez, told the Washington Post that agents are stressed about missing a paycheck or two. “FBI agents aren’t different than other Americans in that a lot of people live paycheck to paycheck,” he said. His wife works for the bureau and he is using their savings to ensure they can pay their mortgage while she is not being paid.
FBI Director Christopher Wray has, according to an agent who spoke to CNN, has thanked FBI employees and promised to get agents paid and work towards ending the shutdown.
Tom O’Connor says that the FBIAA has met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence’s office regarding the shutdown. He told CNN that “we found them very open to hearing from the FBI agents association and hearing the issues that agents are having with the shutdown and the operational tempo issues.”
Additionally, he says, that FBI headquarters is “doing all they can” to insure that major investigations continue. “For special agents, financial security is national security,” he says.