- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2008

The House intelligence committee unanimously supports a measure that would block the FBI’s use of funds for a policy lawmakers say hampers the bureau’s ability to combat terrorism and other major crime, and has contributed to FBI staffing shortages.

The FBI’s “five years up or out” policy requires senior supervisors to move to the bureau’s Washington headquarters after five years in the field, apply for a management position elsewhere or step down. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last week adopted an amendment to the 2009 Intelligence Authorization Bill that would prohibit the use of any funds to implement the mandatory reassignment program.

“The policy makes no sense. It is counterproductive and unwise. It is the wrong way to treat people,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, a former FBI agent and the amendment’s author.

Twelve Democrats and eight other Republicans on the House committee supported Mr. Rogers’ amendment. In a report, the committee questioned the FBI policy’s effectiveness and its impact on counterterrorism efforts.

The authorization bill, which provides a substantial portion of FBI funding, is expected to come to the House floor next week.

The FBI policy, resurrected by Director Robert S. Mueller III in June 2004, imposes a five-year term limit on GS-14 supervisory agents at the bureau’s 56 field offices, requiring them to either compete for a position at FBI headquarters in Washington, qualify and seek a position as an assistant special agent in charge in a new office, or give up their supervisory duties and accept a substantial pay cut.

In an interview yesterday,Mr. Rogers said the policy makes the prosecution of terrorists, organized crime figures and others more difficult because many field supervisors are opting to retire instead of moving to Washington.

“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,” he said. “These supervisors work these cases and stay in the field because they want to, and America is better off for it.”

Several veteran FBI supervisory and field agents said the policy has led to a critical shortage of qualified managers in key investigative oversight posts and has damaged the bureau’s effectiveness by assigning Washington desk jobs to supervisory agents who have years of experience and should be managing critical long-term investigations in the field.

“The most important people in the FBI are the street agents, and the folks at headquarters in Washington don’t seem to understand that,” said Mike Carbonell, who headed the violent crime and fugitive task force in Philadelphia as an FBI supervisory agent for 10 years until his 2007 retirement after 29 years in the FBI because of the Mueller policy.

Of the 586 field supervisors affected by the policy as of October, about half of them - 290 - opted to transfer to headquarters, while another 153 returned to investigative duties with a pay cut. Another 138 retired, and five quit outright.

“Quite frankly, if the policy was the right answer, the FBI would not have lost nearly half of its most experienced supervisory agents because of it,” Mr. Rogers said. “The more I learn about it, the more I believe it is bad for the bureau, bad for national security.”

But FBI Assistant Director John Miller said all agents sign a mobility agreement when they join the bureau so they know they are to go where they are needed. He said if the agents “wanted to find one town and stay there forever while moving up the ladder, they should have become a cop.”

Mr. Miller noted that after the Sept. 11 attacks, when federal law-enforcement officials failed to recognize the threat from al Qaeda terrorists, it was “clear” to Mr. Mueller that headquarters had to have enough experienced supervisors to be able to “look across the landscape across separate cases and put those strands together.

“The only way to do that is to be looking over all the [counterterrorism] cases all the time from [headquarters],” he said. “The field does not have a mechanism to do that or come to those critical judgments.”

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