As the debate over how to cut federal spending rages in Washington, one idea that will no doubt be raised again as Congress looks for further cuts is a change to the formula by which federal employees contribute to their defined pension plans. It's important for Congress to understand that this proposal would have national security implications as changes to federal employee pensions will impact FBI Agents and other federal law enforcement officers.
For some, attacking "faceless bureaucrats" in the debate over spending cuts offers an easy sound-bite and generates little opposition. However, when federal employee pensions are targeted, this impacts FBI Agents and other federal law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line each and every day.
Under some proposals, Agents would face more than a fourfold increase in required pension contributions. This translates into a potential 5% cut in pay. For the majority of FBI Agents, the proposed increase in pension contributions would compound the two-year pay freeze already imposed by President Obama in 2010. All federal law enforcement officers already contribute more of their salaries to their pensions than do other federal employees. This is in deference to their ability to retire earlier than other federal employees as a result of the stress and physical danger inherent in the occupation, a nature of the job that is also shared with members of the United States military.
A 5% cut in pay will have immediate and negative consequences to the families of thousands of dedicated FBI Agents who protect the United States and its citizens from harm on a daily basis. This is an issue of fundamental fairness, particularly as it impacts those who made important family decisions based on a known set of circumstances, which now may be arbitrarily changed to satisfy the public's anxiety and frenzy over a perceived public/private sector pay gap. The reasonable expectations of these dedicated public servants will be replaced by financial uncertainty
Many Agents have forsaken more lucrative jobs in the private sector in order to serve their country and society. Agents do not seek elevated salaries and end of year bonuses. They desire only the assurance of a reasonable income and a respectable retirement. Eventually the economy will recover, but the damage to federal morale and effectiveness will have been done. Recruiting highly skilled and educated FBI Agents in the future will be all the more difficult. The more senior and experienced personnel will retire earlier to begin new careers in the private sector.
FBI Agents are vital to this country's security. In the end, jeopardizing the recruitment and retention efforts of the FBI and other law enforcement and counterterrorism organizations could end up costing our nation far more in lives and money than it saves. President Obama proposed exempting members of the armed forces from the federal employee pay freeze in 2010 because of the national security implications and there are no active plans to tamper with military pensions. The underlying justification for that exemption applies equally to FBI Agents and other federal law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day to keep this country safe and secure.
Konrad Motyka is President of the FBI Agents Association, a professional association with membership of nearly 12,000 active and retired FBI agents nationwide.