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FBI agents say they need more money to stay in the bureau

Agents in high-cost cities say they cannot support their elevated expenses on their current salaries.

FBI agents are warning they cannot afford to continue working in the nation’s highest-cost cities, with many saying they may seek out careers outside the bureau as daily expenses grow and their pay remains relatively stagnant. 

Nearly 70% of agents assigned to high-cost areas find it difficult to live there with their current salaries, according to a recent survey of its membership conducted by the FBI Agents Association. Much of their membership is reassigned at management’s whim and have little say over where they work, which the group said is exacerbating the problem. The issue has become particularly trying in recent years as housing costs have increased dramatically with inflation. 

FBI agents in cities like New York, Boston, Washington and Honolulu are speaking out to warn bureau leadership that they may pursue other careers. 

“We are constantly considering moving and changing jobs, even leaving the FBI,” said an FBIAA member living in Boston. “It is getting to the point where we are deciding, ‘What is the point of this?’” 

FBI boasts that its agents earn between $81,000 and $129,000 per year on average, though starting salaries are typically slightly lower. Supervisory agents can earn up to $170,000 annually. 

FBIAA is particularly concerned that employees could lose their security clearances if they are unable to demonstrate financial solvency. They said turnover has increased to problematic levels in expensive areas and retention is getting more difficult as agents ask to be reassigned to lower-cost regions. 

“As FBI agents, we dedicate our lives to protecting our country,” said Natalie Bara, FBIAA president. “The high cost of living in many major cities affects our work today as well as our ability to recruit and retain the talented people we need.”

Many agents said they have difficulty saving for retirement or their kids’ education.

“[We have] lots of anxiety induced by financial stressors and fear of never being able to retire,” said an agent in San Francisco. “Unforeseen events like a car accident or medical emergency can be financially devastating.”

A Brooklyn-based agent said rising costs without commensurate pay adjustments are making the FBI a short-term stopover for many of his colleagues.

“For agents wanting to stay long term and raise a family, it is almost impossible due to costs and availability of housing [and] daycare,” the agent said. 

Many agents suggested they could earn significantly more in the private sector, as they maintain specialized skill sets and their FBI experience is valued in security and other fields. 

“I question daily if my dream career working as an agent in the FBI was a poor decision in the sense that I cannot provide enough financially for my family,” an agent in New York City said. 

To alleviate the situation, FBIAA is working with FBI headquarters, the Justice Department and members of Congress to provide boosted pay for employees in high-cost areas to help offset housing costs. The bureau and Justice have received the proposal warmly, FBIAA said, and some members of Congress are working to identify funding for a pilot program as part of the appropriations process. Those conversations have been ongoing for more than a year, however, and there is no guarantee extra spending will be approved. 

In the most recent round of funding, Republicans boasted they cut FBI funding by 6% and the party has derided the bureau after alleging it has conducted politically motivated work. Neither House Republicans nor Senate Democrats have unveiled their proposed funding levels for FBI for fiscal 2025. 

The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.