WASHINGTON — As the partial government shutdown enters its fifth week, the funding freeze has impeded FBI efforts to crack down on child trafficking, violent crime and terrorism, according to a report issued Tuesday by the group that represents the bureau’s 13,000 special agents.
“The resources available to support the work of FBI agents are currently stretched to the breaking point and are dwindling day by day,” said Thomas O’Connor, president of the group, the FBI Agents Association.
The report reflected the scope and seriousness of the shutdown’s effects, and came as President Donald Trump and the leaders of the two parties on Capitol Hill maneuvered to find a path out of the impasse. The Senate scheduled procedural votes for Thursday on competing Republican and Democratic proposals, although neither appears likely to win sufficient support to pass.
The Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, is one of the government agencies affected by the partial shutdown, along with the departments of State, Transportation, Agriculture, Interior and others.
O’Connor said national security was directly related to the bureau’s financial security. “It is critical to fund the FBI immediately,” he said.
Because of the shutdown, the FBI has been unable to issue grand jury subpoenas and indictments in several cases cited in the report.
An agent working on an MS-13 investigation that has gone on for more than three years and resulted in 23 gang indictments for racketeering, murder and money laundering has been hamstrung by his inability to pay for an interpreter who can communicate with his Spanish-speaking informants, the report said.
The bureau has also not been able to pay its informants, an important source of intelligence in terrorism, narcotics, gang, illegal firearm and other national security cases. The FBI could lose those informants.
“It is not a switch that we can turn on and off,” the report said.
The 72-page report described how field offices in some cases have run out of basic supplies like tires for vehicles, copy paper and forensic supplies like DNA swab kits, and do not have the funds to buy replacements.
The FBI is not the only part of the Justice Department struggling during the funding lapse. The department has had to ask the federal courts to postpone some major civil litigation, including a lawsuit over the lawfulness of the Affordable Care Act, which the department no longer defends in court.
The federal courts that hear Justice Department cases are also running out of money. The nation’s legal system could soon be hobbled if Congress and the Trump administration cannot come to an agreement to reopen the portions of government that have been closed since last month. The federal courts will run out of money by around Feb. 1, requiring them to cut back to essential services at that point and furlough some workers.
The FBI Agents Association has been warning of the negative effects of the shutdown for nearly two weeks.
On Jan. 10, the association and representatives from all the FBI field offices signed a petition that said the shutdown could create financial issues for agents that would make it hard for them to pass the routine financial background checks necessary for them to obtain certain security clearances. They also said the pay freeze would make it hard to retain and attract agents.
The latest report from the group, which is based on the accounts of scores of agents, outlines more dire consequences. The group allowed the agents to speak anonymously to protect them from retaliation and other negative repercussions.