WASHINGTON — As the ongoing partial government shutdown approaches record territory, members of the nation’s law enforcement arm are putting out a warning about the impact it’s having on public safety and national security.
The FBI Agents Association, which represents nearly 13,000 active-duty, rank-and-file agents around the country, has released a petition calling for the FBI to be funded immediately.
The bureau is part of the Department of Justice, one of several agencies that have gone nearly three weeks without any money. The impact is starting to get noticed by field agents around the country.
“Investigations and our tools to conduct those investigations are limited because of the shutdown and will only become more limited,” warned Tom O’Connor, an agent in the Washington Field Office and the president of the FBI Agents Association. “Operations are being hindered.”
He pointed to a growing backlog at the FBI’s Quantico, Virginia, crime lab, which helps process forensics investigations for the bureau as well as for police departments around the country. O’Connor added: “Special agents are often involved in activities that require access to funds, such as undercover operations, drug-trafficking operations and work with informants.
“The lapse in funding for the FBI limits the funds available to support investigations.”
This weekend is supposed to be payday for agents, but because the bureau is operating without funding, agents aren’t getting paid for the work they’re doing, something O’Connor said agents are well aware of. In the long term, that could also have an impact on their ability to keep their jobs.
“Special agents are subject to high security standards that include rigorous and routine financial background checks to ensure that agents are financially stable and responsible,” explained O’Connor. Those background checks include a declaration of all debt an agent has, and too much of it will raise red flags. “Missed paychecks could jeopardize the security clearances required for special agents to do their work.”
O’Connor avoided issuing any blame for the shutdown, saying “this is not about politics for special agents.” He spoke optimistically about recent discussions with the offices of both Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying “we found them very open to hearing from the FBI Agents Association.”
But he cautioned that without fully funding the FBI, it will hinder “our capabilities to do our jobs completely and to the fullest ability we have. …
“We believe strongly that the FBI is a national security organization. We need to be fully funded.”
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