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Excessive FBI turnover hampers cooperation with local authorities

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON- The FBI has experienced excessive turnover among senior officials, hampering cooperation with state and local authorities since the Sept. 11 attacks, a new report released Wednesday said.

The senior agents who run the 56 FBI field offices average just 15 months in their jobs before moving on to new assignments or leaving the bureau altogether, according to a report by the congressionally chartered National Academy of Public Administration. At FBI headquarters in Washington, the average posting for high-ranking officials is 13 months, the report said.

The short tenures of Special Agents in Charge of the field offices, or SACs in FBI parlance, make "it difficult for them to perform one of their most important functions, developing effective relationships with state and local officials," said former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, chairman of the panel that produced the report. It was released at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on changes at the FBI following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Thornburgh told lawmakers at the hearing that he was "astonished to see the short tenures of SACs."

No senior executive in Washington and only four SACs have been in their jobs longer than FBI Director Robert Mueller, who started work 10 days before the attacks.

Floyd Clarke, another panel member, spent five years as FBI deputy director, Thornburgh said. Since Clarke's retirement in 1994, there have been nine deputy directors, Thornburgh said.

Mueller, testifying at the same hearing, acknowledged the difficulty in keeping experienced agents. "There have been tremendous problems with retaining persons particularly since Sept. 11 because there's not a corporation in the country that doesn't want a security officer," Mueller said.

The FBI is expected shortly to hire a chief personnel officer to address problems raised in the report and other studies by the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service and the Justice Department inspector general, he said.

The reports are the latest in a series of examinations of the FBI that say the bureau has made enormous strides in changing its primary mission from solving crimes to thwarting terrorism, but still needs to improve its intelligence gathering and analysis, as well as upgrade its technology.

Thornburgh ascribed some turnover to the dramatic change in the FBI's duties. "It is traumatic," he said, especially for agents who made careers pursuing mobsters, drug dealers and bank robbers.

The FBI has had several costly setbacks in its attempt to overhaul its computer systems, a top priority for Mueller after Sept. 11. Mueller scrapped a paperless case management system at a loss of $105 million to taxpayers after he was told it was obsolete.

Its replacement, dubbed Sentinel, will be rolled out in four phases, beginning by the end of 2006, he said.

The Thornburgh panel report, however, found some field offices and FBI training facilities in Quantico still have limited access to the Internet.

The FBI purchased 10,000 licenses from a software company for computer-based training, "but access to appropriate computers is so limited that only 200 employees, on average, are in a position to use the licenses at any one time," Thornburgh said.

FBI chief information officer Zalmai Azmi said the numbers were wrong, but did not elaborate.


On the Net:

FBI: http://www.fbi.gov

National Academy of Public Administration: http://www.napawash.org

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