WASHINGTON ― Employees at the FBI, an institution still reeling from the attacks it has endured since the 2016 election, are dealing with another blow to morale as the government shutdown enters its second month.
FBI special agents and employees, who will soon miss their second paychecks since the government shutdown began on Dec. 22, are scrambling to make ends meet. New FBI recruits just starting their careers through their training at Quantico, Virginia, have never received a paycheck. The FBI SWAT team can’t purchase critical gear. Some FBI employees are unable to put food on the table and are relying on food banks that FBI field offices have set up across the country.
A new report from the FBI Agents Association, an outside organization that advocates for bureau employees, lays out the effects of the partial government shutdown on the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Thomas O’Connor, the president of the group, held a press conference on Tuesday to call attention to the shutdown’s impact on FBI employees and the need to fund the bureau.
“We are a motivated, professional, and patriotic lot, as you know, but we do have to make our bills like every other American — red, blue, green, or otherwise,” one 22-year FBI veteran said in the report. “Notwithstanding the obvious ... financial duress, there is also a very real impact on morale for us all.”
“The demoralization of employees is impacting operations because employees now have a significant point of stress distracting them as they perform their normal duties,” said another FBI employee.
An agent whose wife is battling Stage 2 breast cancer is worried about being able to financially survive the shutdown and said he was “angry at the unnecessary stress this shutdown is putting on my wife who just survived cancer and my 9-year-old son.”
Two FBI employees who recently bought their first home in a new city can’t afford their mortgage. “We contacted our lender, and they are refusing to work with us,” the FBI employee said. “They don’t want our ‘Hardship Letter,’ they want money, period.”
Another employee of 24 years whose wife is battling terminal cancer said they’ve had to reach out for assistance from family and friends for the first time in his career.
“I am proud to be an Agent, proud to serve my country, and willing to sacrifice my life in defense of the people and the Constitution, but to have my family placed in the financial situation we are currently facing due to partisan politics is disgusting to me as a government employee and a citizen,” the agent said in the report.
While President Donald Trump has used the threat of MS-13 as justification for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, the shutdown has affected investigations into the gang, according to one FBI employee. The employee said the bureau had been working an investigation into MS-13 for three years and had indicted a number of members, but has not had a Spanish speaker in the division since the shutdown.
“We have several Spanish speaking informants,” the employee said. “We are only able to communicate using a three-way call with a linguist in another division.”
“To have my family placed in the financial situation we are currently facing due to partisan politics is disgusting to me as a government employee and a citizen.”
Bureau employees are limited in what kind of outside jobs they can take, and already work long hours in often stressful jobs. O’Connor credited FBI leadership with being flexible about the $3,000 cap on outside employment ― the FBI’s shutdown Q&A page says “flexibility is warranted” with regard to the limit, given the unusual situation. But O’Connor said FBI special agents shouldn’t have to be contemplating part-time work to being with.
“FBI agents should not have to go work at a store stocking shelves because they can’t feed their families on their government job,” O’Connor said. “When are they going to find time to go get that second job?”
O’Connor also worried about the long-term impact on the bureau’s ability to attract talent, given that new recruits at the FBI Academy at Quantico still haven’t received their first paycheck from the government.
“These people leave other jobs, many times taking a pay cut to join government service, they leave their families at home and they come to Quantico and they spend months at training. How long can you leave your family at home with your spouse and children, taking care of your family while you’re away doing your job and becoming an FBI agent, and you have no money to pay for mortgage, food, medical, anything that you need?” O’Connor asked. “Brand new agents, at an entry level, are getting nothing and have gotten nothing.”
An FBI employee in the central region said in the report that an incoming FBI agent may move in with him and his wife to save money.
“We have a robust food bank going and hosted 200 federal employees for a free potluck lunch this week,” the FBI employee said. “We have a free breakfast planned for next week.” Another employee said that the “distraction of worrying about making ends meet is in the back of their minds.”
“I’ve always prided myself on being able to pay my bills on-time and in-full. The fact that I can no longer do that is humiliating and degrading,” said one FBI agent from the southeast region. “Like many of my fellow agents, I took a sizable pay cut to come to serve my country as an FBI special agent. I accepted this position because I wanted to serve the cause of justice instead of clients. The idea that I’d be forced to work without a paycheck or the ability to provide to my family was unthinkable to me when I made that decision to work here.”
O’Connor said that he and his wife, who is also an agent, delivered an entire truckload of donated food to their office last night for an FBI employee in need. “Phenomenal,” O’Connor said of the donations from citizens. “Also, I can’t believe it’s happening.”
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Read the FBI Agents Association report below.