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FBI Agents Association Says Without Funding Important Investigations Are Stalled


The partial government shutdown is now in its fifth week. And if nothing changes come Friday, hundreds of thousands of federal workers will miss another paycheck.

Among those federal workers, FBI agents. The FBI Agents Association says without funding, that important counterterrorism, drug and child abuse investigations are stalled.

Thomas O'Connor is president of the association, which advocates for more than 14,000 former and active FBI special agents. And he joins me now. Mr. O'Connor, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

THOMAS O'CONNOR: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: So point me towards an example. When you say that investigations, operations that should be unfolding, aren't, give me one example.

O'CONNOR: Well, we reached out to our field agents and asked them to give us examples. And I'll read you just one of the many. It's, quote, "not being able to pay confidential human sources risks losing them and the information they provide forever. It is not a switch that we can turn on and off," end quote.

KELLY: What kind of operation would that person be involved with?

O'CONNOR: Well, the person is talking about counterintelligence and counterterrorism. But, you know, confidential informants are a tool which is used by the FBI in all of our investigations. And when you don't have the money to pay those people, that information source can dry up. People will do it for a period of time. But they also have bills to pay also, right?

KELLY: Yeah. Well, this is an important point to just stay on for a minute because I think a lot of us understand FBI agents are considered essential workers. So I know that they're not being paid, but they're on the job. The point you're making is the people they need to get their job done, if they're not getting paid, informants aren't going to show up and cooperate. Translators who you need to get your work done, they're not going to show up necessarily.

O'CONNOR: Well, there are people that are furloughed in not only the FBI, but the U.S. Attorney's Office, which is part of the Department of Justice that assists the attorneys that we work with on a daily basis processing subpoenas, search warrants, this type of stuff. And those people aren't there to do their job.

So when agents go to the U.S. Attorney's Office to try and move their case forward, the U.S. Attorney's Office is not able to assist the way they would if the government was funded and they were fully staffed.

It is not just our agents. It is the people that we work with that are affected by this shutdown, and it slows down the investigations across the board.

KELLY: There are also practical issues that I hadn't thought about. If an FBI agent misses a credit card payment or a mortgage payment, they have to worry about all the things that any other federal worker would, in terms of maybe messing up their credit rating or losing their home. They also have to worry about messing up their security clearance.

O'CONNOR: Right. So FBI agents go through a thorough background investigation when they're hired and on a regular basis throughout their career. As part of that, we have to do what's called a financial disclosure on an annual basis. We have to disclose every dime that comes into our family. And anytime there is some type of a failure to pay or if your credit rating gets hit because you weren't able to make a payment, this can potentially be damaging to a person's clearances, top secret and above.

KELLY: It sounds like when you put out this call to agents in the field - tell me your stories, tell me what's going on - you heard back from a lot of people. And you heard back loud and clear.

O'CONNOR: We heard back from hundreds of members. I mean, there are heartbreaking stories when it comes to the personal side of things. And there are disturbing stories when it comes to the operational side of things. FBI agents are doing their job today just like they did it before the shutdown. And we will continue to do our jobs once the shutdown ends.

KELLY: As we have reported on the shutdown and we've checked in with other government agencies, some of them have described stopgap ways they're finding of keeping things running, you know, pulling from a different pot of money that was set aside for something else. Understanding that that's not an ideal solution or a long-term solution, is some of that not possible within the bureau?

O'CONNOR: Oh, it is possible. And FBI headquarters has done Herculean work in trying to find funding veins for us to use. But as we continue to go forward and no new moneys come into the FBI, it doesn't take a rocket scientist or an accountant to tell you that operations and personnel are going to suffer.

KELLY: Thomas O'Connor He's president of the FBI Agents Association. Thanks very much for taking the time.

O'CONNOR: Thank you very much for having us. And I hope that next time we speak, that this is all done Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: January 22, 2019 at 9:00 PM PST
A previous Web introduction to this story incorrectly gave Thomas O'Connor's last name as O'Connell.