For the FBI, the longstanding failure to diversify its ranks is nothing short of “a huge operational risk,” according to one senior official, something that compromises the agency’s ability to understand communities at risk, penetrate criminal enterprises, and identify emerging national security threats.
Indeed, 10 months before being fired as director of the FBI by President Trump, James Comey called the situation a “crisis.”
“Slowly but steadily over the last decade or more, the percentage of special agents in the FBI who are white has been growing,” Comey said in a speech at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black school in Daytona Beach, Florida. “I’ve got nothing against white people — especially tall, awkward, male white people — but that is a crisis for reasons that you get, and that I’ve worked very hard to make sure the entire FBI understands.”
It’s a charged moment for the FBI, one in which diversifying the force might not strike everyone as the most pressing issue.
Trump has repeatedly questioned the bureau’s competence and integrity. Many Democrats blame Hillary Clinton’s defeat on Comey’s decision to announce that the bureau was reopening its inquiry into her emails days before the election. Republicans, echoing Trump’s attacks, have alleged that the FBI’s investigation of the president’s ties to Russia is a politically motivated abuse of power.
With some 35,000 employees and an annual budget around $9 billion, the FBI has an array of hiring problems, of which diversity is but one. It needs first-rate linguists and technologists to fight terrorism, and now, with ever greater urgency, cyber-crimes, yet starting pay for an agent in, say, Chicago is only around $63,600. In 2015, a human resources official told the bureau’s inspector general’s office that the agency attracted 2,000 eligible candidates to a recruiting event for its Next Gen Cyber Initiative, but only managed to hire two of them.