Magazine article The American Prospect

Dollars Don't Do It: Throwing Money at the FBI Only Deepens the Problem. (Gazette)

Magazine article The American Prospect

Dollars Don't Do It: Throwing Money at the FBI Only Deepens the Problem. (Gazette)

Article excerpt

THE FBI HAS HAD A ROUGH couple of months with the public, in the press, and on the Hill. Senators are even entertaining the notion of splitting the bureau in half. But if Director Robert Mueller is seriously concerned about the FBI's future, it's only because he's new to the job. Congress may be in a punishing mood, but its idea of punishment would make masochists of us all.

Over the past 10 years, with very few exceptions, Congress has responded to FBI slipups by spanking the bureau with more money, more manpower, and more investigative latitude--and by resolutely refusing to address any internal reforms the FBI might need. When the bureau's crime lab bungled its way into a one-year backlog and dozens of mishandled cases in 1996, Congress responded by building a shiny new $130 million facility. When the cost of building a nationwide automated fingerprint system ran $85 million over budget in 1995, Senator Robert Byrd was ready with a "dire emergency" supplemental appropriations bill to keep the project on target.

Even amid the crisis of confidence brought on by the bureau's pre-September 11 missteps, Congressman Frank Wolf, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the bureau's budget, sent an open letter to Mueller on May 24. The missive expressed "concern" for the FBI's recent mistakes but then asked the director "if Congress was doing enough with regard to providing the FBI with the financial resources it needed."

Mueller should have few complaints. The bureau is set to receive its biggest, ahem, punishment in decades, including a $1.5 billion budget increase and the investigative latitude for agents to open preliminary investigations and maintain them for up to a year without approval from headquarters.

Of course, some of the bureau's shortcomings do take money to fix. But it was not for lack of money that these problems developed in the first place. Congress in 1997 allocated $83 million to hire more than 1,000 new counterterrorism agents and support personnel who, Congress was told, were going to focus solely on the problem of preventing terrorism. Instead, they were more commonly assigned to run-of-the-mill criminal investigations. Kenneth Williams, the Phoenix agent who warned of suspicious flight-school trainees, applied his knowledge of radical Islamic organizations to investigating a series of arsons in the Phoenix suburbs. According to Williams's colleague, agent James Hauswirth, one of their supervisors in the Phoenix office referred to terror prevention as "hokey-pokey work."

Nor are the bureau's problems the result of overly restrictive investigative techniques. The Minneapolis agents could have been granted a warrant to delve more deeply into Zacarias Moussaoui's life if FBI headquarters had allowed them to do so.

The fact is that the FBI's mistakes have more to do with an overabundance of resources than a lack of them. From 1997 through 2002, the bureau added 1,000 people to its payroll, virtually all of them at headquarters, virtually none of them field agents. During the same years, its budget grew by roughly 30 percent. But the number of bureaucratic hurdles grew as well. By sending her memo directly to Mueller, agent Coleen Rowley was circumventing eight different layers of leadership. …

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