Trump Says FBI Is 'In Tatters,' But Agents and Employee Surveys Paint a Different Picture

Former FBI Director James Comey said the FBI is honest, strong and independent. Former FBI Director James Comey said the FBI is honest, strong and independent. Andrew Harnik/AP

FBI agents and former officials have sharply rejected a criticism President Trump directed at the agency this weekend, saying the bureau is still held in high esteem and its workforce remains dedicated.

The comments came after Trump tweeted over the weekend that the FBI was “in tatters” due to poor leadership by former Director James Comey and the “dishonest” investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of State. The president also retweeted a suggestion that Christopher Wray, nominated to direct the FBI after Trump fired Comey, “clean house” at the agency.

Thomas O’Connor, president of the FBI Agents Association, which has chapters in each of the agency’s 56 field offices and its headquarters, defended his colleagues and called the FBI the “premier law enforcement agency in the world.”

“Each and every day, FBI Special Agents put their lives on the line to protect the American public from national security and criminal threats,” O’Connor said. “Agents perform these duties with unwavering integrity and professionalism and a focus on complying with the law and the Constitution.”

O’Connor added that Trump’s statements contradicted the sentiments on the ground: “FBI Agents are dedicated to their mission; suggesting otherwise is simply false.”

Surveys of FBI employees seem to back up O’Connor’s views over Trump’s. In the Partnership for Public Service’s 2016 Best Places to Work rankings, based on data from the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, the FBI was rated in the top third out of 305 components across government and fourth out of 15 law enforcement agencies. On an index score out of 100, FBI employees gave their agency a score of 68.7. That was up from 65.5 in 2013, the year Comey took over as director.

While Trump specifically disparaged Comey’s leadership, the FBI’s “effective leadership” score jumped two points from 2013 to 56.4 in 2016. That was down slightly from 2015 and just below the component average of 57.3. The strategic management score last year of 57.7 also increased slightly from 2013 and was just above the component average.

The Office of Personnel Management has released top-line findings from the 2017 viewpoint survey, but it and PPS have not yet unveiled component data on the most recent results. 

The FBI’s own Annual Employee Survey specifically asked about Comey’s performance, and the former director consistently received stellar reviews. On scores on communicating with and engaging the workforce, he earned at least a 4.5 out of five in 2015 through 2017. In ratings for an array of categories evaluating Comey’s “personal characteristics and value,” the former director’s scores were always above four and generally closer to 4.5.

On the overall employee survey, scores varied more widely. In the 2017 survey, key questions such as a being proud to work at the FBI and recommending it as a place to work saw very high scores. Workplace engagement and morale scores dipped below four at many divisions, though those ratings were mostly up slightly from 2013.

Former leaders joined current agents in denouncing Trump’s remarks. Comey quoted himself on Twitter, saying he wanted the American people to “know the truth.”

“The FBI is honest,” he wrote. “The FBI is strong. And the FBI is, and always will be, independent.”

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who oversaw the FBI during his leadership of the Justice Department, said the FBI maintained integrity that Trump lacked.

Trump’s outburst against the FBI appeared motivated by Justice’s Special Counsel Robert Mueller bringing charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the agency. The president also criticized Mueller’s investigation after he dismissed an FBI investigator who was found to have criticized Trump in text messages.

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