WASHINGTON (CN) – The impact of the government shutdown is so severe for FBI agents that their union filed a report Tuesday warning that investigations are being hampered and agents are considering leaving the bureau to keep their mortgages afloat and feed their families.
The 72-page report issued by the FBI Agents Association, or FBIAA, offers first-hand testimony from agents who work both in the field and in offices nationwide on matters involving counterterrorism, drug and gang crimes, human trafficking and other national security matters.
The ongoing partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, hit the 32-day mark Tuesday. Friday will be the second time furloughed and non-furloughed FBI employees alike will miss a paycheck, said Tom O’Connor, president of the FBIAA, a group that represents over 14,000 active and retired special agents.
“This is one month without pay,” O’Connor said on a conference call Tuesday. “Last night, my wife and I, who is also an agent, delivered food to our offices in need. The FBI family comes together in times of crisis but it is truly sad that we must resort to this because we are being let down by our elected officials.”
The FBIAA delivered a petition to the White House and Congress on Jan. 10 warning that a failure to fund the FBI would undermine various far-reaching aspects of the bureau’s daily investigations.
Tuesday’s report details accounts from special agents who have worked on a voluntary and anonymous basis since the shutdown began, O’Connor explained.
Due to the shutdown, he also said victims connected to witness protection cases are not receiving the resources they need.
“We have no way to pay for their expenses,” O’Connor said.
Reading from the FBIAA report, Connor recounted testimony from one anonymous agent assigned to a long-term investigation of the criminal gang MS-13.
“I have been working [this investigation] for over three years. We have indicted 23 gang members for murder, racketeering, money laundering and weapons offenses. Since the shutdown, I haven’t had a Spanish speaker in the division,” the anonymous agent reported. “We have several Spanish-speaking informants and can only communicate using a three-way call with an agent in another division.”
The consequences are dire when FBI informants aren’t paid, O’Connor explained.
“Not being able to pay criminal informants risks losing them and the information they provide forever. It’s not a switch we can turn on and off. Every day the shutdown continues, the operational impediments get worse and damage our counterterrorism and terrorism efforts around the globe,” O’Connor said.
While missing paychecks hurt every agent’s wallet, he said it is the younger employees and newer agents who are the most likely to bail on the agency if the shutdown isn’t resolved soon.
“The problem is the FBI spends a lot of money and manpower recruiting... I can’t imagine attracting new qualified applications during the shutdown. These folks will go somewhere else and we will be stuck with subpar applicants,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor confirmed Tuesday that he has communicated with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s staff since submitting his association’s petition on Jan. 10. The FBIAA has also communicated with the White House, he said.
“People we’ve met with have been very receptive and they’ve listened. All we can do is voice our opinion and tell them the facts about what is in this document,” O’Connor said.
Representatives for Speaker Pelosi and the White House could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
Medical insurance will continue for agents during the shutdown but dental and vision coverage ceases on Friday with the next missed paycheck.
And agents who retired after Dec. 21 – the last day the government was open – won’t receive their retirement checks. The FBIAA president said they can’t convert their annual leave to pay in lieu of those retirement checks during the shutdown.
“Working people shouldn’t have to find a second job stocking shelves to feed their families. Agents are working 50-plus hours a week. When are they even going to find time for a second job? It’s ridiculous,” O’Connor said.
Included in the report are several illustrations from elementary school students whose families have been impacted by the shutdown.
In colorful scrawl, one illustration proclaimed a simple message: “Thank you FBI. I am so glad that you did not shut down like the government did.”
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