- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A top FBI official yesterday defended a much-criticized directive requiring field supervisors to move to the bureau’s Washington headquarters after five years or step down, saying “highly experienced” managers are needed to fight the war on terror and other crime here and abroad.

“The program was borne out of an acknowledgement by the director, his senior staff and others that the bureau’s need for a highly experienced management cadre and an increasingly large footprint overseas would require a management staff willing to move, relocate and exploit that knowledge across the bureau,” FBI Executive Assistant Director Michael Mason told The Washington Times.

“We have a fairly young FBI,” Mr. Mason said, noting that a third of the bureau’s 11,000 agents were hired after the September 11 attacks. “There was a lot of vigorous debate concerning this directive. You always design these programs with an eye to what’s best for the FBI … and to do it in a way to provide a softer landing for those impacted.”

Mr. Mason, who formerly led the FBI’s Washington field office, said that although some veteran supervisors have criticized the program, the directive seeks to “realize the hope that their experience will not be lost but exploited by the FBI to the benefit of many more agents.”

The program, instituting a five-year term limit on field supervisors, was ordered in June 2004 by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to fill vacancies at headquarters and broaden the expertise of FBI managers as the agency reorganized. It targeted 980 supervisors in the bureau’s 56 field offices, of whom 233 have since been promoted or retired.

Several FBI supervisors have said the directive will hurt the bureau’s effectiveness by assigning veteran agents who should be managing critical, long-term investigations to desk jobs in Washington. The order requires GS-14 supervisors to compete for positions at FBI headquarters, qualify and compete for positions as assistant special agents in charge, give up their supervisory duties or retire.

The directive is known to the agents as “five years up or out.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and a former FBI agent, has asked Mr. Mueller to reconsider the order, saying it will make the prosecution of terrorists, organized crime figures and others more difficult if field supervisors opt to retire in lieu of moving to headquarters. The lawmaker said the directive should be modified to exclude those named as supervisors before 2004.

“It takes time for agents in the field to gain the experience and understanding required to go after mobsters and terrorists and to build the network necessary to work what are intelligence-based investigations,” Mr. Rogers said. “These supervisors work these cases and stay in the field because they want to, and America is better off for it.”

Mr. Mason said supervisors who took jobs before the 2004 directive were given “sufficient lead time to deal with this initiative.” He said that although all new programs have “growing pains” and there could be an adverse effect on those who do not want to or can’t relocate, it was “time to move forward.”

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