WASHINGTON (CN) – Representatives for FBI special agents petitioned the White House and Congress to end the government shutdown Thursday, calling it a matter of national security to ensure that nearly 13,000 agents do not miss their first paycheck Friday.
“An agent’s financial security is national security,” Tom O’Connor, president of the FBI Agents Association, told reporters on a conference call Thursday.
With no sign of reprieve on the horizon as the government shutdown lingers into its 20th day, the association petitioned the government to immediately fund agents, attorneys, support staff, technical staff and other key FBI operations personnel.
“High-security standards require financial security for FBI agents,” O’Connor said. “They are subject to rigorous routine financial background checks to ensure that they are financially stable and responsible. A missed paycheck could jeopardize security clearances.”
As available funds diminish with each passing day during the shutdown, O’Connor said the pain is felt through every field of investigation.
He cited as examples the need to fund narcotic purchases that are part of ongoing criminal investigations, and said the lack of funding hamstrings surveillance specialists as well.
Added insult to injury, O’Connor noted, the shutdown only increases the inevitable backlog at labs, field offices and at headquarters.
Almost 5,000 special agents, analysts, attorneys, technical and other professional staff are furloughed while thousands of other agents remain on active duty.
“But no one in the FBI is getting paid – whether you’re working or not,” O’Connor said. “Yesterday I was driving in, and I was listening to bureau radio, and there was surveillance taking place. I heard one agent say ‘We’re doing this and we’re not getting paid.’”
President Donald Trump, who is heading to the U.S.-Mexico border Thursday to campaign, has remained fixed on his position that Congress must apportion $5.7 billion for a border wall or the government cannot reopen.
Speaking to reporters before departing the White House, Trump said he had “an absolute right” to declare a national emergency if a deal was unable to be struck between the White House and Congress.
“I would like to do the deal through Congress because it makes sense to do it through Congress,” he said before boarding Air Force One. “The easy route for me would have been to declare a national emergency to do it. … If we don’t make a deal, I would say 100 percent, if we don’t make a deal it would be very surprising to me that I would not declare a national emergency and just fund it through various mechanisms.”
On Friday the Trump administration’s shutdown will become the longest in the nation’s history, trailed by a 21-day shutdown from 1995-96 and a 16-day shutdown from 2013.
O’Connor warned that the future becomes more uncertain as those markers are eclipsed.
“There’s no way to reach back and say, in 2013, how long did this go and what did we do? It’s never been this long,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor also noted how the shutdown causes labs to face delays in analyzing key intelligence, criminal and other data tied to greater national-security issues, a problem for law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels.
Resource shortages are already restricting the types of tools that can be used in undercover operations, as well as work with informants, and an agency that doesn’t pay its staff will have a hard time recruiting and retaining personnel.
“We’re concerned the growing insecurity may lead some agents to consider career options that provide better stability for themselves and their families,” O’Connor said.
Heads of the FBI Agents Association have already met with Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, O’Connor confirmed Thursday.
Both were “open” to the association’s concerns, he said, but ultimately, inaction at the federal level has not helped ease the burden on agents feeling the pinch financially.
“On top of security clearance issues that could potentially arise from this, we also have people incurring fees for things that are completely out of their control,” O’Connor said.