FBI Anti-Terror Efforts ‘Severely Hindered’ by Forced Budget Cuts
Policy + Politics

FBI Anti-Terror Efforts ‘Severely Hindered’ by Forced Budget Cuts

Washington’s messy budget battles have taken a toll on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counter-terrorism capabilities, according to an outside panel created by lawmakers to analyze the agency’s performance.

Even though the FBI more than doubled its budget from 2001 to 2014, a new report claims the inability of Congress to reach a budget deal in 2011 “severely hampered” the agency’s ability to deal with terror threats.

The budget crisis led to sequestration in 2013, which resulted in a hiring freeze at the FBI and other agencies at a time when many agents were retiring.

The FBI 9/11 Commission, an outside panel created by lawmakers to review the agency’s performance, also found that despite recommendations from a previous panel more than a decade ago, the Bureau is still in need of additional reform.

“The FBI faces an increasingly complicated and dangerous global threat environment that will demand an accelerated commitment to reform. Everything is moving faster,” the commission’s report, released today, finds.

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The commission was created to examine the FBI’s compliance with the recommendations issued in 2004 by a previous 9/11 Commission. The three commissioners are former Reagan administration Attorney General Edwin Meese III; former six-term Indiana Congressman and U.S. Ambassador to India Tim Roemer, a Democrat; and Professor Bruce Hoffman, the director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

The commission found that in the years following the original 2004 report, the FBI restructured itself, both fiscally and operationally, but in recent years has been hindered by the mandatory budget cuts known as sequestration. “It is important to note that sequestration in FY14 severely hindered the FBI’s intelligence and national security programs,” the report said.

The funds appropriated for the FBI fell slightly in fiscal 2013, but in the beginning of fiscal 2014, when the sequester cuts kicked in, the consequences were more dire. Anticipation of the cuts had already placed some programs on hold, and once the budget changes took effect, the bureau’s training division saw its budget slashed by 50 percent in 2014. The Bureau’s training facility in Quantico, Va. went quiet, cancelling virtually all classes except mandatory firearms training and going more than a year without graduating a new class of special agents.

The Bureau was also forced to start furloughing 5,500 field agents, without pay, for 20 works days, and to begin offering early retirement to others. The result was a loss of experienced personnel and a reduction in person-hours on the job for those who remained, made worse by the discontinuation of training for more junior agents and analysts and a the elimination of the flow of new recruits into the Bureau.

That meant that, even when a bipartisan budget deal in Congress restored the FBI budget for the remainder of fiscal 2014, programs had gone unfunded or under-funded for a significant period, and instructors with no classes to teach were reassigned. 

In the end, the agency’s funding in 2014 was $8.2 billion, up 2.2 percent from its last official appropriation in 2012 and more than double the agency’s $3.81 billion budget from fiscal 2001. However, the interruptions in training and hiring contributed to the agency’s problems in fully implementing the 2004 panel report’s recommended reforms. 

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The sequester, though, was not the only problem standing in the way of the FBI’s success in addressing the threat of terrorism. The commission found “a significant gap between the articulated principles of the Bureau’s intelligence programs and their effectiveness in practice. The Bureau needs to accelerate its pursuit of its stated goals for intelligence as a matter of increased urgency.”

Among other things, the commission found that the agency has lagged behind on developing the capacity to analyze and understand intelligence its agents gather, and said that “hiring additional linguists and integrating them into operations should be a high priority.” 

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