FBI Scrambling To Hire Special Agents As Public Opinion Erodes

The FBI is having trouble filling special agent positions amid the tightest labor market in decades, while three years of scandals revealing the agency to be a hotbed of partisan leadership and sexual misconduct isn't helping. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, the number of applicants for special agent has dropped from a peak of 68,500 in 2009 to just 11,500 in the year that ended in September. 

Because of this, the FBI has been forced to beef up recruitment efforts - as the agency relaxes some of its eligibility requirements and sets out to target women and minorities, according to the Journal

"We had a lot of discussion internally about why the number of special agent applicants were fluctuating so much over the years. We were trying to figure out what’s the story," said the FBI's head of recruitment hiring, Peter Sursi. 

The FBI’s renewed focus on recruitment comes as the bureau remains under intense pressure over its handling of politically sensitive investigations, including special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. President Trump has derided the investigation, which began as an FBI inquiry and still uses the bureau’s agents and resources, as a “witch hunt.”

Major leadership shake-ups—Mr. Trump’s firing of Director James Comey in 2017 and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ firing of Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in 2018—further added to the turmoil within the bureau, and polls have shown that the public’s view of the FBI has soured in recent years. -Wall Street Journal

The FBI's former top brass didn't help the agency's image - with Deputy Director McCabe's wife taking $500k from Clinton pal Terry McAuliffe's PAC before McCabe headed up the investigation that exonerated her, and former FBI Director James Comey's wife and daughters revealing they were rooting for Hillary in 2016.

Prior to heading up the FBI, Comey earned $6 Million dollars in one year as Lockheed’s top lawyer – the same year the over-budget F-35 manufacturer made a huge donation to the Clinton Foundation. He was also a board member at HSBC shortly after (then NY AG) Loretta “tarmac” Lynch let the Clinton Foundation partner slide with a slap on the wrist for laundering drug money.

There was also a ton of sexual misconduct which happened under Comey's watch, as detailed in a report by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG). 

The acts entail inappropriate romantic relationships with a subordinate, outright sexual harassment, favoritism or promotion based on demands for sex, and retaliation against women who rebuffed male employee’s advances. -Daily Caller

All of that said, the FBI's recruiting slump began long before recent revelations went mainstream - with current and former officials noting that the downward trend in applications began after 2009

FBI recruiters say that the hiring slump has little to do with the politics - as unemployment is hovering at near-historic lows, meaning many attractive candidates are already employed. 

"Our recruiters never had to actively encourage special agent applicants to apply before. But the labor market is tight for most employers these days, with more jobs than qualified workers," said Sursi. "We have to adjust our strategies to be a competitive option."

FBI officials say that it takes about 16,000 applicants to get a healthy pool of candidates for the 900 special agent positions that open each year. The bureau has fallen short of that number for the past several years.

The FBI has thus far been able to maintain its hiring levels despite the slump, agency officials said. But there is also a growing recognition that the traditional enticement of FBI employment isn’t as strong as it once was. -Wall Street Journal

"The way that government recruits people is they give you more interesting work, particularly more interesting work at a more youthful point in your career," says former FBI agent Michael German, who is currently a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. 

One reason the FBI is constantly searching for new candidates are the bureau's mandatory retirement age of 57 - just one factor prompting officials to overhaul the recruiting process over the past six months. 

Among the changes; previous work requirements have been cut from three years to two, keeping in touch with applicants throughout the process to discuss any concerns, reaching out to people who had started, but not completed their applications, and letting applicants continue the process even if they don't immediately meet fitness requirements

The agency is also reaching out to former agents asking for referrals

Nancy Savage, the executive director of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, said she had met with multiple FBI officials including with FBI Director Chris Wray to discuss how to put targeted recruiting efforts “on steroids.”

“They are talking to us more [to say], ‘Hey can you guys ramp this up, at least to let all your contacts know,’” Ms. Savage said.

She emphasized the relative scarcity of highly specialized candidates that the FBI is seeking, including candidates with science and technology backgrounds, forensic accountants, and those with foreign-language skills. -Wall Street Journal

And since 67% of FBI special agents are white men, according to FBI statistics, the agency has been reaching out to women and minorities to fill jobs. They have also been conducting searches among less-traditional career paths for FBI applicants - including CEOs and school therapists. 

"Hypothesis. Experiment. Analysis. Outcome. This isn’t much different than a criminal investigation. Are you ready to take your curiosity from the lab to the streets?" reads one advertisement targeting nuclear physicists. 

Based on preliminary numbers, the agency's recruiting push has begun to show results. Of the 11,500 new applicants this fiscal year, 47% were minorities and 26% were women, while the agency says it has received 13,000 new applications since October 1.