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FBI Agents face tough times amid high housing costs


Housing costs have been squeezing many Americans in big cities, and some of the people struggling to make ends meet are FBI agents. They're asking Congress for help. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: New graduates of the FBI Academy have no choice where they're sent to work. Usually, it's a big city, a place like New York, where the starting salary for an agent is around $73,000. Housing costs can eat up a lot of that paycheck. That's led to agents doubling up in apartments or driving well over an hour to the office every day. Natalie Bara is president of the FBI Agents Association.

NATALIE BARA: It's a challenge to get to the right balance of having a place to live, a place where your kids can go to school and be within a reasonable amount of commuting distance to whatever field office you're sent to.

JOHNSON: Bara's hearing from people who are having trouble paying their bills.

BARA: Financial security for special agents is a matter of national security.

JOHNSON: Bara says agents who wind up in bankruptcy or even with a big credit card balance can endanger their security clearances and their ability to work for the FBI.

CRAIG FELIX: It's a real problem.

JOHNSON: That's Craig Felix, an FBIAA board member and an agent who works on the West Coast.

FELIX: An example out here in Silicon Valley - agents are recruited for jobs which pay a tremendous amount more than they do in the FBI. And not surprisingly, some of these agents are drawn to these larger salaries, and they're leaving the FBI for jobs in the private sector.

JOHNSON: FBI agents are also able to retire at age 50, and more of them are doing just that. Then they're getting new jobs that pay better or give them more freedom to move. The Agents Association is asking Congress to stop that brain drain and approve a $165 million pilot program that would give a housing alliance to FBI employees. The program would be open to people in Boston, Miami, Newark, Seattle, Honolulu, Washington, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco says justice department workers like these FBI employees put their lives on the line to protect the American people. Monaco says DOJ is committed to developing sustainable strategies that will support all their personnel. But the outlook in Congress is far from clear. Some House Republicans have proposed breaking up the FBI, and former President Trump and his allies want to defund some of its operations. Bara, who leads the Agents Association, says the cost-of-living crisis is not a partisan issue. Rather, she says, it's about safety and security. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.