The FBI's National Security Branch, which leads the war on terrorism, is on its sixth director in four years. Bald lasted just eight months. Chris Swicker, the head of the bureau's law enforcement division, is also leaving — after just three months. The head of the FBI lab and its cyber-crime chief say they're leaving as well.
It gets worse in middle management. A new headquarters mandate that experienced supervisors must apply for jobs in Washington or be demoted has prompted an exodus estimated in the hundreds.
"In the last survey, about half of these field supervisors, which are being forced to move to headquarters or get out, about half of them said they were going to get out," says Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who once served as a special agent.
Former FBI agents like Mike German say the problem is that most agents want to work cases in the field — not shuffle papers in Washington.
"That's really a huge problem, especially here at headquarters," he says. "Morale is so low people are taking retirement as soon as they're eligible, which didn't used to be the case."
Mike Mason, who recently assumed a new management job at the bureau, acknowledges that some agents are resisting mandatory moves and are being attracted by the lure of private industry.
"We've changed ponies a little bit in midstream because of the demands placed on the FBI," he says. "There is the draw of private industry and the salaries they offer," he says. "But there is also the desire in many of these people to simply do something different."
The turnover is also a reflection of the bureau's hiring practices. Many agents come onboard in their early 30s — often just out of the military — and then face mandatory retirement at 55. That's just about the time they enter top management.