The FBI will furlough agents and employees in fiscal 2014, should sequestration cuts continue as scheduled.
FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department the FBI would have no choice but to force unpaid leave, thereby putting the country at risk.
“I have long said people are the bureau’s greatest asset,” Mueller said at the subcommittee hearing Thursday. “Additional operational cuts and furloughs will impact the FBI’s ability to prevent crime and terrorism, which will in turn impact the safety and security of our nation.”
He added the bureau has taken every possible step to protect its workforce, but the cuts will become too deep to avoid furloughs.
“We have two resources to cut,” Mueller testified. “One is our people, which is a last resort.”
The other option is the FBI’s infrastructure, which the director said is “tremendously important to us but comes second to our people.”
Mueller said the FBI cannot absorb the $700 million in sequestration cuts scheduled for fiscal 2014, however, without resorting to policies detrimental to the workforce. The FBI has already sustained $550 million in automatic cuts in fiscal 2013 on top of $150 million in cuts from 2013 appropriations, but it has been able to avoid furloughs this fiscal year.
Lawmakers expressed their disapproval with the plan. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the full committee, called it “shocking” the bureau would have to furlough agents.
“The FBI is known for its agents,” she said. “The threats do not go away. This is not deferring maintenance to a dorm.”
The senator renewed a call for a permanent solution to replace the across-the-board cuts.
“This is a self-inflicted wound,” she said. “This is not an external threat from a foreign country or what organized crime is doing to us. It’s what we’re doing to ourselves. And I think we have to find a solution for canceling sequester, not better managing sequester.”
Mueller said the furloughs would have a significant and adverse impact on agents.
“There is nothing more demoralizing than when you are faced with furloughs,” he told the panel. “Unable to pay your bills, working hard, but the government has to furlough you because there is insufficient money to keep you on.”
Mueller added, however, the unpaid leave would not have stopped a prompt response to the bombings at the Boston Marathon in April.
“Furlough or no furlough everyone would be in immediately,” he said, “even if you didn’t get paid.”
These employees would still get paid, however. The Office of Personnel Management has issued guidance that states an employee on furlough who is called back into work for emergency purposes has his furlough canceled and receives normal compensation. An FBI agent would not be legally permitted to voluntarily come into work while furloughed without receiving pay.