FBI prepares for significant budget cuts

One of the country's leading law enforcement agencies could soon face some significant cuts and its impact could be felt here in East Tennessee.

The FBI expects its budget to be cut by $700 million next year due to sequestration. It could have eliminate 3,500 jobs and furlough thousands of workers across the agency.

Kenneth Moore, special agent in charge of the FBI's Knoxville division, said the furloughs could make it harder for the FBI to conduct its affairs.

"That will prevent us from, as an agency, being able to respond in potentially crisis situations in full capacity," he said.

Moore said the FBI does its work in many different sectors. The department monitors national security, cyber investigations and political corruption cases. Moore said the budget cuts could hamper the FBI's service in all of those categories.

"If we have a child abduction case that perhaps occurs in Los Angeles, California, for example and the office in Los Angeles receives information that the child may be here in Knoxville or East Tennessee somewhere, if it's on that day where it's furloughed, my agents are not going to be working," he said.

Moore added the budget cuts have stopped the FBI's training program in Quantico, Virginia.

On top of that, Moore says the Knoxville office has seven employees who will soon retire within the next three months. He said he will not be able to fill their positions.

The FBI also has a strong relationship with local law enforcement in East Tennessee. It works to assist local agencies whenever they need help. For example, if an active shooter situation were to occur, the FBI could provide a local department with its SWAT team or special agent bomb technicians to resolve the case.

But, on days that a furlough occurs, the FBI Knoxville office will not be around to help.

"It will be just a dial tone and I will not have the authority to bring employees back on board unless it is a critical national security type situation," Moore said.

As a former agent and former Knoxville police chief, Sterling Owen knows both sides of the equation well.

"It was not unusual at all to receive a phone call from the agent in charge at the FBI office, when there was a significant crime occurring, in where they said, 'We're here for you,'" he said.

He said law enforcement will still be able to do their jobs, perhaps just a little bit slower in certain situations.

Owen said he does not believe the current situation will break the relationship between federal authorities and local officers.

"I don't think it will break them," he said. "Everyone is suffering in one way or another. So, local law enforcement, county law enforcement, state law enforcement, they're all having to watch their nickels and dimes."

Moore says if sequestration does not end and the FBI does not receive sufficient funding by mid-January, his office could begin to see furloughs. He said they could last anywhere from nine to 16 days.

Sequestration is scheduled to last through 2021.


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