Broken Government

Published — December 10, 2008 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

FBI struggles to confront multiple threats

White-collar criminals are getting off the hook while the FBI shifts its investigation energy to counterterrorism efforts


The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) new counterterrorism assignments have bled resources from its other missions. Traditionally the FBI has fought domestic bad guys — bank robbers, white-collar criminals, mobsters, and spies — but now its top three priorities are counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and cyber-security. As resources have accrued to these areas, prosecutions have dropped off for white-collar and financial crimes, such as mortgage fraud, and for local criminal activity. Analyses of data from the Department of Justice by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and The New York Times have demonstrated the decline in investigations and prosecutions for financial or white-collar crimes, while the number of terrorism-related cases has ballooned. “It’s continuously an effort to request new resources while prioritizing the resources that we have,” FBI Director Robert Mueller told the House Committee on the Judiciary in September 2008. Mueller fought the Office of Management and Budget to gain greater funding for his criminal investigators, according to The New York Times; he lost that battle. The bureau is pursuing an increasing number of mortgage fraud cases, but the 2009 budget continues to prioritize funds for counterterrorism at the expense of other FBI functions.

Congress inserted a requirement for a report on FBI workforce allocation in the 2008 budget, but when the report came out in June it lacked virtually any specifics. President-Elect Barack Obama has called for 1,000 new FBI agents, to better enable the bureau to “investigate and identify those seeking to do harm — whether they are terrorists, gangs, or white-collar criminals.”

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