WASHINGTON – Foul-ups by FBI officials here have become so common that even street agents are poking fun at their once-hallowed bureau, saying it now stands for “Famous But Incompetent.”
Yet, over the past five years, headquarters has showered top FBI officials with hundreds of thousands of dollars in prestigious rank awards – on top of annual performance bonuses.
Alongside the parade of embarrassing FBI scandals, bungles and debacles — from Richard Jewell to Filegate to Wen Ho Lee to Timothy McVeigh to Robert Hanssen — a parade of Hoover Building bureaucrats picked up fat checks at black-tie honorary ceremonies hosted by the State Department.
Special agents running FBI field offices, meanwhile, were passed over for such awards, even though the incompetence seems to be centered in Washington.
“I’m hard-pressed to think of any case which has been solved by FBI HQ personnel, and I can name several that have been screwed up!” wrote Coleen M. Rowley, FBI special agent and Minneapolis chief division counsel in a blistering letter last month to FBI
Director Robert Mueller.
She complained that FBI bureaucrats blocked agents from searching the alleged 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui’s computer and apartment before Sept. 11, a move that could have tipped off authorities to the terrorist plot.
Each year, the performance bonuses of Senior Executive Service (SES)-level FBI employees – an elite group of 178 officials, including assistant directors and special agents in charge of the bureau’s 56 field offices – can be supplemented with special cash
Up to 5 percent of career executives can receive Meritorious Executive awards, which until 1998 carried a lump-sum payment of $10,000. Starting in 1999, that payout increased to 20 percent of base pay, according to Andrew Mescolotto, spokesman for the Senior Executives Association, which lobbied for the raise.
Up to 1 percent of this same group can receive a Distinguished Executive award. This was a lump-sum payment of $20,000, but has been boosted to 35 percent of base pay.
FBI senior executives in the Washington area make between $125,972 and $138,200, depending on their pay grade.
According to the Office of Personnel Management, the following senior FBI officials have been awarded these supplemental bonuses over the past five years:
- Neil J. Gallagher, former assistant director of FBI national security division ($10,000)
- Thomas T. Kubic, principal deputy assistant director of FBI criminal investigation division ($10,000)
- Larry E. Torrence, deputy assistant director of FBI national security division ($10,000)
- William J. Esposito, former FBI deputy director ($20,000)
- Carolyn G. Morris, assistant director of FBI technical (computers) division ($20,000)
- James V. DeSarno Jr., FBI deputy assistant director ($10,000)
- David R. Loesch, assistant director of FBI criminal justice information services division ($10,000)
- Thomas J. Pickard, former FBI deputy director and acting director between Louis Freeh and Mueller; one-time head of Washington field office and head of PENTBOMB investigation before retiring unexpectedly in October ($20,000)
- Sheila W. Horan, former deputy assistant director of FBI national security division, and now deputy assistant director of administrative services division (award equal to 35 percent of base pay)
- John R. Collingwood, assistant director of FBI office of public and congressional affairs (award equal to 35 percent of base pay)
Each year, the FBI also pays out performance bonuses to senior executives based on annual appraisals. The payout can be up to 3 percent of the bureau’s total aggregate SES career payroll for the previous fiscal year. Individual bonuses must be at least 5 percent of salary and no more than 20 percent.
On Monday, FBI spokesman Bill Carter agreed to break out performance bonuses separately for WorldNetDaily, but as of press time Wednesday, the data were not available.
OPM does not keep numbers for FBI bonuses, because the FBI is one of the few federal agencies that is not required to report such information, says OPM spokesman Mike Orenstein.
Between fiscal years 1999 and 2001, however, the Justice Department paid SES employees, including FBI officials, a total of $3.4 million in performance bonuses. The average payout was $9,699.
When Freeh first took over the FBI in 1993, he canceled bonuses for SES employees, because he said field offices were short on ammunition and needed the money for bullets, says a former special agent in charge of one of the field offices.
“But once he put his own people in place at headquarters, he restored the bonuses,” the veteran FBI agent said.
John E. Roberts, as unit chief in the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, said he knew of SES employees at the FBI – some of them Freeh cronies – who were promoted and got “thousands of dollars in cash awards” while they were under internal investigation for misconduct in the Ruby Ridge case and so-called “Pottsgate” retirement party at Quantico.
Longtime FBI internal investigator John Werner, now retired, says malfeasance and incompetence are routinely rewarded in the SES “club” at FBI headquarters.
“I have a real problem with that,” particularly in light of how top officials dropped the ball before Sept. 11, he said in a WorldNetDaily interview.
“There was a lack of performance by individuals before Sept. 11. The [counterterrorism] work just flat didn’t get done,” Werner said. “Yet those same individuals [responsible for fighting terrorism] were promoted and given awards.”