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Will Hunt Al-Qaida for Food

Aug 01, 20032 mins

While 9/11 raised the stakes for FBI agents, it didn't do anything to raise their pay.

Federal agents associate with mobsters, live among drug traffickers and are tasked with dismantling terrorist cells. But while 9/11 raised the stakes for FBI agents, it didn’t do anything to raise their pay.

Compensation for agents is set by Congress on a pay scale that typically lags behind the private sector. This pay discrepancy makes it particularly challenging for government agencies to attract professionals from fields such as computer science and languages, says Michigan Rep. and former FBI Special Agent Mike Rogers. The modest government salaries also make life tough for agents stationed in expensive housing markets such as Boston, Chicago, New York City and San Francisco, says FBI spokesman Paul Bresson. All agents in the FBI start at a base salary of $44,000 with guaranteed overtime of about $25,000 per year. According to current salary rules, Chicago employees would make an extra 4 percent over folks working in, say, Des Moines, Iowa. However, the cost of living is 30 percent higher in Chicago.

But a new bill sponsored by Rogers could help. The Federal Law Enforcement Pay Equity and Reform Act of 2003 (HR 1676) will, among other things, remove a cap on overtime compensation and raise the pay of agents in high cost-of-living areas. In addition, the law would create a separate pay and promotion system for federal law enforcement agents, whose salaries have been lumped in with other federal employees. The system will also be designed to increase the government’s retention of talented agents with valuable skill sets. Currently, such employees are easily lured away to lucrative jobs as security consultants in the private sector, says Rogers. “You’ve got a guy who specializes in computers who spends five years with the FBI studying computer forensics. Do you know how much that guy is worth in the private sector? Companies are going to pay huge money for that type of experience, and the government can’t compete with that. You’ve got to get compensation to a level where public service makes sense,” he says.