FBI needs long-term plan for counterterrorism vacancies, watchdog says

Ross D. Franklin/AP

The FBI needs to develop a long-term strategy for filling counterterrorism division vacancies, a government watchdog found.

Although the FBI has made some progress addressing a 40 percent vacancy rate -- first reported in 2005 -- in certain parts of its counterterrorism division, the bureau has yet to establish sufficient plans for recruitment moving forward, according to a Government Accountability Office report published Monday.

The FBI implemented a strategy to reduce the counterterrorism vacancies using a combination of targeted recruitment and incentives. For example, the FBI began allowing special agents to work 18-month temporary duty assignments at its counterterrorism headquarters in Washington and also provided relocation incentives for permanent transfers. The bureau has spent $50 million since 2006 to staff the counterterrorism division with special agents, GAO found.

The vacancy rate for all positions in the counterterrorism division decreased from 26 percent to 6 percent between fiscal 2005 and fiscal 2011, the report said. Transfers out of the counterterrorism division to other parts of the FBI contributed to most of the vacancies, raising concerns the bureau’s ability to address its “most important mission,” GAO reported.

The vacancy-reduction strategy, known as the Headquarters Staffing Initiative, “helped to build a cadre of experienced counterterrorism agents both within [the counterterrorism division] and in field offices,” GAO said.

The watchdog found, however, the FBI had insufficient longer term criteria and time frames for the plan.

“A 2005 FBI working group report noted that while HSI may be effective in the short term, a long-term solution would require a more thorough analysis,” GAO wrote. “By defining these elements, the FBI could better ensure that the evaluation of HSI will produce accurate and relevant findings that can inform the long-term staffing strategy for agents in [the counterterrorism division] and other headquarters programs.”

The FBI concurred with GAO’s recommendation to establish criteria and time frames for evaluating whether or not the staffing initiative will be effective moving forward. In a letter signed by the bureau’s human resources assistant director, David G. Bennett, the FBI said it has “already established and set forth the framework” for an ongoing review of the Headquarters Staffing Initiative, which will look more at its long-term impact.

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