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Shutdown Hampers FBI Operations, Agents Association Says


The partial government shutdown is affecting the FBI. Sure, most FBI agents count as essential personnel. They're still turning up at work. But the FBI Agents Association is warning that the shutdown is interfering with their operations against crime. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas is here to talk about this. Hey there, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note first that the agents who are working are unpaid, right?

LUCAS: Absolutely. And actually, this Friday, if there's no deal to end the partial shutdown, this will be the second paycheck that they will have missed. And like a lot of other federal employees who are not getting paid, this is proving pretty painful for people who work at the FBI. Here's the Agents Association president, Thomas O'Connor, describing the toll on FBI agents from this.


THOMAS O'CONNOR: Every family in the FBI has mortgages, car payments, bills that come in at the end of the month. And you have to pay those. Try doing that without a paycheck.

LUCAS: Now, O'Connor says that he and his wife, who also works for the FBI, collected food in their neighborhood this week to bring to the office for a food bank there for those in need. There's an extra twist for FBI agents who aren't getting paid, though. They have to do a financial disclosure every year. Any defaults on loans, missed payments - that has the potential to hurt their ability...


LUCAS: ...To get their security clearance or retain their security clearance, which is critical for their jobs.

INSKEEP: And then let's talk about the jobs themselves. How is the day-to-day operation of the FBI affected here?

LUCAS: Well, according to the Agents Association, it's having a pretty significant impact. The association represents around 14,000 active and retired FBI agents. So they have members in all of the FBI's field offices across the country. And the group released a report yesterday that outlines how the lack of funding is hindering their work. It includes anonymous comments from agents in the field, and they say that it's having a significant impact on pretty much everything the Bureau does, from training to investigations. And the kinds of investigations that are being impacted are serious.

We're talking about sex trafficking, crimes against children, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, violent gangs, drug traffickers. The Agents Association also warns that this partial shutdown may have a long-term impact on the FBI on its ability to recruit and retain the kind of talent that it needs to do its job.

INSKEEP: What is the practical way that an inability to spend federal money would hinder the investigation of a drug network, say?

LUCAS: Well, one thing that stands out in this report again and again is agents saying that they no longer have the money to pay confidential sources. And those are critical to their investigations. They are used in all sorts of the FBI's work, from counterterrorism to counterintelligence, to the gang and drug sort of investigations that you asked about. When sources aren't getting paid, they go silent.

INSKEEP: Wait. You can't just tell a confidential source to please wait until the government shutdown is over?

LUCAS: Somehow, they like to get...

INSKEEP: They want to be paid on the barrel. OK.

LUCAS: Right. So one example in the report comes from an agent who says that they're investigating a street gang that is pushing a lot of methamphetamine and heroin. That investigation has been undermined because they've run out of money to pay their confidential sources. And they've also run out of money to make controlled purchases of drugs, which is an important part of narcotics investigations.

INSKEEP: So the one question comes up - by raising these issues, is the FBI getting into politics here?

LUCAS: It's funny that you ask that. The FBI itself put out a statement last night making clear that the report is from the Agents Association, not from the FBI. But the Agents Association says, for its part, that this is not about politics. For them, this is about getting the funds that they need to protect the country.

INSKEEP: Ryan, thanks.

LUCAS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.