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Crime doesn’t pay, and right now neither does the government, says FBI association head

The FBI Agents Association has released a report warning that the government shutdown, which has left thousands of agents working without pay, is reducing the organization's ability to execute critical intelligence gathering and law enforcement tasks. Thomas O’Connor, president of the association, joins Judy Woodruff to explain why agents' "financial insecurity equals a national security issue."

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    An alarming report released today by the FBI Agents Association warns the government shutdown impacts the FBI's capability to execute critical intelligence-gathering and law enforcement tasks. It also compromises agents' ability to maintain their security clearances.

    Thomas O'Connor is president of the association, and he joins us now.

    Mr. O'Connor, thank you for being with us.

    So, putting it all together, what has this shutdown meant for FBI agents? And there are, what, 13,000-some-odd.

  • Thomas O’Connor:

    Just about 13,000 agents.

    Our membership is about 90 percent of those 13,000. The shutdown has created a financial insecurity within the agent population, and, frankly, within all of our professional employees throughout the FBI.

    That financial insecurity to us equals a national security in and of itself.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What does that mean? I mean, is the country's security at risk because agents can't do their jobs?

  • Thomas O’Connor:

    Well, so, FBI agents are going to continue to do their job.

    The problem is that the FBI, as an organization, has a budget, a funded amount of money, which is final. And every day, the thousands of investigations that are being done throughout the United States and overseas, those cost money.

    As we spend money on those investigations, there's nothing being put back into the general budget of the FBI. Now, FBI headquarters is trying very hard to try and move money around to make as little impact as possible. But we're finding, from our voices in the field, that there is an impact already being felt.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You asked the bureaus around the country to send in their comments, how they're feeling this.

    And many of them wrote in. And they talked about how their work is being affected, and it crosses the spectrum from counterintelligence, as you just mentioned, to crimes against children, sex trafficking, violent crimes. It is affecting everything the FBI does.

  • Thomas O’Connor:

    The FBI has a vast responsibility of investigative programs. And that does cover criminal, counter-terrorism, and counterintelligence.

    The bureau is funded as an organization as a whole. And the lack of funding coming into the FBI causes all of those programs to suffer in some way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How is it affecting agents individually? You asked them to talk about, to write about that, and a number of them comment on the stresses it has meant for them, for their families.

  • Thomas O’Connor:

    People were very honest with us. Hundreds of agents wrote in to us, and they wrote their stories about their spouses being ill, and the difficulty that they — they're now having to go to family to ask for help.

    Personally, I find that disgusting, that an FBI agent or an FBI employee, who works for the federal government, works every day — and the key is, these agents are working. They are on the street. They are not home. They are working. They are just not getting paid.

    And to have those people suffer through this financial hardship, for over a month now, FBI agencies and support employees, have gotten no money for the work that they have done, which means that all the things that we have to pay at the end of the month, we have to pull that out of our savings.

    And I don't care how financially secure are you. You can't go on forever with that. I most worry about our young agents with families and our support employees, who may be at a lower pay scale. These are the people who are going to suffer and are suffering the soonest.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you were just telling me, very quickly, what — how this makes you think about how the federal government is making these decisions.

  • Thomas O’Connor:

    Well, I mean, the FBI Agents Association is completely nonpolitical. We have no dog in any fight when it comes to politics.

    Our goal is to get the FBI fully funded, so we can do our jobs with all the tools that are necessary to do our jobs to its fullest extent, and also to pay the FBI employees for the work that they're doing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tom O'Connor, the — Thomas O'Connor, the president of the FBI Agents Association, thank you very much.

  • Thomas O’Connor:

    And thank you very much for helping us get the word out that, you know, financial insecurity is national security.

    Crime doesn't pay. And, right now, neither does the federal government. And that's wrong.

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