On Jan. 16, FBI agents working without pay arrested a 21-year-old man suspected of planning to blow up the White House. Hasher Jallal Taheb was nabbed in a sting operation in Buford, Ga., after allegedly trying to trade his car for explosives, assault rifles and a shoulder-fired AT4 anti-armor weapon. The FBI was alerted of Taheb in March, began investigating him in August and then arrested him after he climbed into a rental car headed to Washington, D.C. Again, those agents were working without pay.
As the partial government shutdown drags into its fifth week, some 35,000 FBI agents and staff aren’t receiving a paycheck. They are part of more than 800,000 federal workers, including 113,546 Department of Justice employees, who aren’t being paid as negotiations between President Trump and congressional Democrats over government funding and border security have repeatedly stalled.
“We really feel that the financial insecurities we are facing right now equate to a national-security issue,” Tom O’Connor, president of the FBI Agents Association, told The Atlantic.
O’Connor, a special agent, like thousands of his colleagues received a pay stub for $0 on Jan. 11.
“I don’t know any other time when people are working their 50 hours a week and not getting a paycheck at the end of the week. It’s wrong, right?” O’Connor said on The Lobby Shop podcast.
Kevin Brock, a former FBI assistant director of intelligence, told the New Yorker that it doesn’t take much to disrupt the life of a federal employee. “When you’re raising a family on a government salary, you are often living, if not from paycheck to paycheck, with a thin margin of savings,” he said. “Particularly in the cities where we’re living, it can get tight.”
Nathan Catura, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, told the Washington Post that he found his frustration difficult to articulate.
“My biggest concern is there’s going to be an agent who is not going to be focused on his job,” Catura said. “He’s going to be out on the street doing some enforcement of something, and he’s going to get hurt. Heaven forbid there’s an agent who gets killed because his mind isn’t on the job.”
How is the government shutdown affecting the FBI?
Due to their law enforcement function, 87 percent of FBI employees are considered “excepted” from the shutdown and must report to work. Still, that means that 13 percent are not and their loss could slow down some investigations. An estimated 5,000 of the bureau’s 35,000 agents, intelligence analysts, attorneys and other staff have been furloughed, meaning that they have been told not to report to work. Additionally, the FBI website has not been routinely maintained during the shutdown, nor have its social media channels.
The FBI has also set up food banks for impacted employees at break rooms at its offices around the country, according to multiple reports.
“We’re all in this together and we’re banding together to help each other out in any way we can,” Melinda Urbina, a spokeswoman for the FBI field office in Dallas, told CNN.
“Excepted personnel are needed because all operations of the FBI are directed toward national security and investigations of violations of law involving protection of life and property,” notes a Jan. 10 Department of Justice Contingency Plan. “Thus, the FBI must be able to continue existing investigations, open new investigations, and respond to all contingencies which might arise during a lapse of appropriations. Accordingly, all FBI agents and support personnel in the field are considered excepted from furlough.”
Health insurance lapse
O’Connor has been making the media rounds as the shutdown continues, and told NBC that if FBI personnel do not receive their upcoming paychecks – the second pay period without pay during this shutdown – then their supplemental health insurance will lapse and they could lose vision and dental coverage for the remainder of the year.
“We’re in danger of losing people, a direct national security threat, families could lose their benefits, and it’s past time to end the foolish shutdown,” he said.
“This is not about politics for Special Agents. For Special Agents, financial security is national security.”- FBIAA Pres. @tfoconnor83 in media briefing on effects of gov. shutdown. Read petition signed by FBIAA representatives from all field offices: https://t.co/sR7Hll5Kqm pic.twitter.com/htNnZ4QcNR
— FBI Agents Association (@FBIAgentsAssoc) January 10, 2019
A petition to Congress
The FBI Agents Association created a petition urging the administration and Congress to come to an agreement to end the shutdown.
“The operations of the FBI require funding. As the shutdown continues, Special Agents remain at work for the American people without being paid, and FBI leadership is doing all it can to fund FBI operations with increasingly limited resources — this situation is not sustainable,” the petition states. “The important work done by the Bureau needs to be funded immediately.”