Tuesday, April 11, 2006

An order forcing FBI supervisors to move to the bureau’s Washington headquarters after five years in the field or step down has been met with widespread criticism, with veteran agents and a congressman saying it will reduce the FBI’s ability to target, arrest and prosecute criminals, including terrorists.

The directive, known to the agents as “five years up or out,” was issued in June 2004 by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to fill what FBI officials called a critical shortage of vacancies at FBI headquarters and broaden the expertise of managers within the bureau as it reorganized in the wake of September 11.

But several veteran supervisory agents, including some of the 90 who hit the five-year term limit this year, told The Washington Times that the directive will hurt the FBI’s effectiveness by assigning veteran agents who should be managing critical, long-term investigations to desk jobs in Washington.

“This just makes no sense at all,” said one supervisory agent with more than 27 years of experience. “There is considerable expertise within the FBI at the supervisory level in the field critical in making cases that can hold up in court, cases that are important to the citizens and essential in assisting state and local law-enforcement agencies.”

The FBI did not respond yesterday to inquiries about the directive.

The order imposes a five-year term limit on GS-14 supervisors, who are required to either compete for a position at FBI headquarters, qualify and compete for a position as an assistant special agent in charge, or give up their supervisory duties and accept a substantial cut in pay.

“The strength of the FBI is not at headquarters, but with the ‘brick agents’ working the streets, putting important cases together everyday,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and a former FBI agent. “Nobody at headquarters is catching bad guys.”

“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. I am concerned this directive will jeopardize that cohesion.”

Mr. Rogers said the directive will make the prosecution of terrorists, organized crime figures, corrupt politicians, bank robbers, fugitives and others more difficult if field supervisors opt for retirement instead of trying to move to headquarters.

The FBI Agents Association, which represents about 80 percent of the bureau’s 11,000 agents, conducted a survey of the 980 supervisors assigned at 56 field offices affected by the directive and found that more than 50 percent intend to leave management or retire as a result of the five-year policy.

“I understand the need to have experienced supervisors, but at what cost?” Mr. Rogers said. “These men and women are in the field because they want to be, and creating a supervisory mill may only attract a lot of bad supervisors, those looking to get their tickets punched.”

In a letter to Mr. Mueller, Mr. Rogers said the directive could be “counterproductive” and asked that it be modified to allow agents promoted to supervisory positions before the June 2004 order maintain their duties and compensation.

The lawmaker said “long-serving and dedicated” supervisors face the “daunting prospect of uprooting their families or suffering a significant loss of pay in the earning years most critical to their retirement benefits.” He said changing the directive would be in the public interest by encouraging supervisory agents to remain on the job “and continue applying their skills and experience to the complex law enforcement and terrorism challenges currently facing our nation.”

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