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FBI Promotion System: Hopelessly Corrupt

FBI Headquarters,  Washington, D.C.

FBI Headquarters,  Washington, D.C.

This article is the opinion of the author. It does not reflect the official position of the FBI (statement included at the direction of the FBI pre-publication review Unit). 

Many line level FBI Brick Agents have lost confidence in the FBI's promotion system.  The majority of Brick Agents are convinced the FBI's upper management ranks are bulging with incompetent, self-interested bureaucrats who obtained their positions through a corrupted promotion process.  On the surface, insidiously, the promotion process presents itself as an independent, deliberative exercise but in reality it has lots of trap doors and secret hallways which are often used by executive management to manipulate outcomes.   

Large numbers of FBI agents desire to spend their entire career being the lead investigator of cases; that is why they joined the FBI.  They love being a detective, operating sources, proving cases against criminals and terrorists and thwarting hostile intelligence agencies.  When an FBI agent becomes a manager, they are no longer assigned casework and are discouraged from participating directly in investigations.  A GS-14 supervisor's work, which is the entry-level supervisory job in the FBI, is much more bureaucratic than the job duties of a brick agent.  Talented investigators crave the challenge of case work, they loathe being bureaucrats.  Consequently many talented agents refuse to enter the FBI's management ranks.  This creates a void of top notch investigators from ever becoming executives.   Unfortunately, it also  provides an opportunity for a disproportionate number of lesser competent agents to take advantage of the void and rise through the ranks above their more talented, competent co-workers.  Each promotion often necessitates a geographic move that further limits the quality of applicants.  These shortcomings, combined with the closed-door, backroom politics that exist in the promotion system are a deadly combination.  At the GS-14 entry level for supervisors, the FBI has some success at attracting talented investigators but most brick agents that become first line supervisors quickly become frustrated with the bureaucracy.  They are often marginalized and undermined by less talented, paranoid FBI managers.  Mainly because the lesser competent executives do not want competition in the management ranks from someone who is demonstrably superior to them as an investigator.  And they do not want to hear any criticism, constructive or otherwise.   Problems multiply exponentially at the second tier of promotion, the GS-15 level and even more so into the Senior Executive Service ranks (SES).  As first line supervisors abandon further promotion due to frustration over bureaucracy,  many of the weakest GS-14 supervisors, who could not survive otherwise, are then freer to move up to the GS-15 level and then to the executive ranks. 

What is also degrading the FBI, is that the weak executives then game the promotion system to help their incompetent friends to gain promotion.  Too many FBI executives are thought to judge applicants for entry into management positions primarily based on the degree of loyalty they expect from that applicant, not by the applicant's accomplishments or abilities. Many executives chose managerial subordinates who will help them get promoted, who will not become vocal about ineffective management and who are deemed amenable to quietly becoming part of the, "FBI Management Culture".   Their Culture expects silence and loyalty, allows victory to be claimed for projects that haven't yet failed or credit to be claimed.  It allows insider promotions to continue and FBI employment to be parlayed into lucrative outside employment after retirement.  Corruption within the FBI promotion process is systemic and is destroying employee morale.  The problem has reached a tipping point and is wrecking havoc on the organization.  Finding non-management employees who say they have faith in the FBI's promotion system is nearly impossible.   Finding scattered employees who respect and admire a single, particular manager is about the best you can do.  When employees do not respect the promotion process, they will never respect those who are promoted by that process. 

A substantial number of managers have NEVER been the lead investigator during a jury trial!     I still recall my shock when as a new counterterrorism Supervisor at FBIHQ, during a case presentation attended by HQ managers, I suggested using the Grand Jury as an option to address the investigation.  Seeing blank stares in the room, I had to spend the next 15 minutes explaining what a Grand Jury was and how it would be used!   These types of inexperienced supervisors from FBIHQ then deploy to FBI Field Divisions, where, during high-profile investigations they make amateurish command decisions because they have limited detective experience or ability.  They tank investigative momentum, embarrass us with the local police.  The results are too often damning headlines and cases that can't be prosecuted. 

Legendary examples are plentiful concerning the ascension to the highest ranks of the FBI of poorly performing or ethically challenged FBI managers.  The incidents detailed here are just a small sample of the evidence demanding a verdict that the FBI promotion system is broken:

In a case involving a monumental display of personal greed, disregard of law and misuse of his position, FBI Assistant Director Ken Kaiser pled guilty recently after being charged with ethics violations where he faced misdemeanor criminal ethics violations. The Title of the DOJ Press Release was:
The FBI Milwaukee Office Special Agent in Charge,  according to a report by the DOJ Inspector General, was found to have:  exhibited a troubling lack of judgement, acted unprofessionally, used extremely poor judgement, discouraged subordinates from speaking candidly and improperly attempting to influence deposition testimony of a subordinate.  The SAC's name was disclosed in the DOJ report and widely repeated throughout the press.  The Milwaukee SAC was referred to the DOJ Public Integrity Section for consideration of prosecution, but DOJ declined to prosecute her.  It would stand to reason that the DOJ IG inquiry and the resulting federal lawsuit the SAC became embroiled in should have gotten FBIHQ's attention in a negative way.  In the face of the SAC's investigation by the IG, FBIHQ promoted her anyway to Deputy Assistant  Director.   How many brick agents have ever been promoted while under an internal investigation?
Sources report that an SAC, who was well connected at FBIHQ, rocketed up through the management ranks until they were allegedly caught orchestrating the "un-arrest" of a family member.  Supposedly the SAC directed a subordinate to lie and  instruct police that the SAC's family member was an FBI informant.  The family member was released.  FBI executives were tight-lipped about the incident for many months until one executive knowledgeable about it stopped concealing their knowledge.  According to a source, the executive eventually reported the incident but only after they were denied a very desirable promotion they had sought.  Seems the reporting executive was miffed about their failed attempt to obtain a promotion, so they reported the un-arrest incident.  The subsequent inquiry allegedly led to the SAC being forced out, but the subordinate who had assisted by contacting the police to obtain the family member's release was, according to a source, yes, promoted.  The entire affair, which caused a ripple effect re-shuffling of promotions in several FBI offices, was swept under the rug by FBIHQ.
FBI Security recently walked an SAC favored by FBIHQ out of a Field Division after he fell under suspicion for serious misconduct, but not upon the FBI discovering the allegations.  FBIHQ only took action after learning what a witness described as smoking gun evidence that came to light against the SAC.  Until FBIHQ was forced to act, it had given special treatment to and protected the SAC compared to the manner in which brick agents are treated.  
In New Haven, an overwhelming number of employees reported, year-after-year, that they lambasted their Special Agent-in-Charge (SAC) Kimberly Mertz on her annual Climate Surveys.  Mertz's background was right out of central casting: a brief stint as a brick agent, then rocketing up the ranks with a few years at FBIHQ, a few years as an Assistant Special Agent in Charge, predictably two years in Inspection Division and then over EIGHT years reportedly making employees miserable as an SAC.   After years of disaster as an SAC, causing a near mutiny by scores of subordinates,  FBIHQ ignored all of it and instead promoted Mertz to Deputy Assistant Director.  Since then a federal lawsuit was filed against the DOJ alleging Mertz committed unlawful retailitory acts against a partially disabled employee.   Moreover, FBI Director Comey has publically apologized to FBI New Haven law enforcement partners and FBI employees for "the failure of the FBI's executive management to correct leadership failures in Connecticut".   
Cartoon credit to fedzcomic.com

Cartoon credit to fedzcomic.com

An SAC and an Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge (ASAC) strip searched two agents fresh out of Quantico.  The young agents, under exigent circumstances, had been ordered to ride in the back of an armored car a short distance from a crime scene to the office .  A crowd of citizens had gathered at the crime scene where hundreds-of-thousands of dollars were laying in the road from a breech of the armored car.  Agents literally fled the area at high speed as the crowd seemed on the verge of rioting.  Upon the caravan of agents safely arriving a few minutes later at the FBI office, they were met by the two borderline voyeuristic executives.   The two leaders, seeing the two new agents emerge from the back of the armored car ordered both agents to strip naked, just in-case they had helped themselves to some cash.  Both agents vocally objected  and protested that neither of them had taken any money.   The execs were told by a senior agent that policy was followed, evidence is routinely escorted by only two agents.  Several other agents tried to intervene too and get the executives to back off.   But the two stellar FBI officials knew better and personally conducted the exam, which included a cheek spread.  Complaints regarding that exemplary demonstration of executive leadership generated an immediate Inspection from FBIHQ.  Within 72 hours of the incident it ended with Office of Preference transfers offered as damages to the two humiliated, stripped agents.  ASAC Strip Search, after a short period of penance, of course, was promoted several times, all the way up to FBI Assistant Director. 
An FBI Supervisor in a large metropolitan field division excused himself briefly while conducting surveillance with his subordinates and was arrested minutes later for soliciting a prostitute (who was an undercover cop). Yes, he was allowed to keep his FBI supervisory job.
An Inspector General investigation showed that an American Flag and a piece of building marble was given to an FBI Assistant Director in Charge, who had requested a memento be delivered to him at his plush corner office in the federal building a  few blocks from where from the World Trade Center.  The controversy over removing souvenirs from the 9-11 crime scene became a national debacle and embarrassment to the FBI.   The debacle demonstrated a lack of command and control by executive management over the units working at the crime scene.  It also demonstrated the blatant arrogance of FBI executives. Many citizens were prosecuted for taking nearly worthless souvenirs from the World Trade Center site, but theft of items by FBI employees was swept under the rug by FBI managers.   When one brick agent reported FBI employee theft and the cover-up by FBI executives, she was immediately ostracized, isolated and targeted. It should be noted that she produced overwhelming evidence of the thefts that resulted in the Inspector General review.
Another famous case involves a high-ranking official in an FBI flagship office.  The official was removed and laterally transferred (but not demoted) to a desirable position at FBIHQ.   Media accounts identified the official by name, reporting publicly details of his being under a severe cloud of suspicion.  Agents reported to the Underground that there had been a revolt over the official's shameless unethical interference in the promotion of a subordinate with whom he had a romance.  News media also reported that the official misled investigators regarding the incident.  The official resigned and then inexplicably was allowed to be re-instated!  If a brick agent is ever reported in the media to have "misled" internal investigators, their career is over!  More outrageous is that recently this high ranking official was promoted yet again even after The Underground confirmed that another serious complaint had been lodged against him.  A complaint that an FBIHQ Section Chief said, "is getting attention at the highest levels of FBI."  However, as his most recent promotion demonstrates,  there apparently are no negative repercussions from the FBI's "highest levels" when the subject of serious allegations is one of their own.
According to an FBIHQ official, two applicants for an FBIHQ Supervisory job both claimed significant roles in a prominent counterterrorism case, using identically worded accomplishment descriptions in their applications.  Besides apparently having plagiarized their claims, both agents were found to have greatly exaggerated their involvement in the case.  Both were eventually promoted.  
SACs often interfere and manipulate career boards.  In just one example, at a  large southeastern FBI office, agents with first-hand knowledge speak openly about an SAC's actions.  The SAC sidestepped many policies to elevate his favorite candidate for a Supervisory position over many other more qualified applicants.  According to Agents who witnessed the events, the SAC's favorite candidate had been ranked eighteenth out of eighteen candidates by the career board.  But after SAC meddling in the process, the eighteenth ranked candidate was suddenly ranked number one and awarded the job!   In classic doublespeak, that SAC routinely preached to Supervisors that he demands they conduct honest and transparent career boards.

Not included in this list are countless sometimes funny, sometimes dangerous but unfortunately all too routine examples of faltering leadership such as:  inappropriate touching of subordinates; sexual contact with subordinates (wanted and unwanted, on government property and off);  using official travel as cover for personal travel;  aggravated misuse of a bureau vehicle;  resisting arrest while driving drunk in a bureau vehicle;  leaking information to retired colleagues for their financial gain; carelessly leaving your FBI handgun in an open vehicle in a residential neighborhood and after it's stolen, blaming it on a mysterious stalker thus avoiding any personal repercussions;  hiring your lover in a high-paying, prominent office support position, and on and on (by the way,  Freedom of Information requests are pending on a number of these).

The examples detailed above are persuasive evidence supporting an indictment of the FBI promotion system.  They represent the tip of an iceberg of incompetence that demands action.   From this evidence, the verdict should follow quickly; the current system results in the promotion, and protection, of too many of the wrong FBI employees.  The culture and the process need to change now.  

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