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Freeh Considers Sweeping FBI Changes in 1st Day on Job : Law enforcement: New director says some of 800 agents at headquarters may be sent back into field. 'It's a good time to ask questions,' he says.

September 03, 1993|RONALD J. OSTROW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — On his first full day as FBI director, Louis J. Freeh began to consider sweeping changes in the bureau, including possibly dispatching some of the 800-plus agents at headquarters back into the field.

"It's a good time to ask questions," said Freeh, 43, a former federal judge, prosecutor and FBI agent who was sworn in Wednesday. "Although I am from the bureau, I come in a little bit more as an outsider, having been away so long and done different things."

In the next few weeks, Freeh said in an interview, he will be asking the FBI's top managers to undertake studies on reducing the headquarters force, on changing a system of promotion that is tied to requiring FBI achievers to move frequently to new locales and to determine whether the agency is paying enough attention to how its field offices are fighting significant crime when it inspects them.

The broad menu indicates that Freeh may prove more of a revolutionary force in command of the bureau than his two predecessors, William S. Sessions and William H. Webster, also both former federal judges.

A little more than 8% of the bureau's 10,000-agent force is based in Washington, supervising, coordinating and assisting the work of the FBI's 56 field offices. "My thought is 8% seems to be a proportionally high number of qualified street agents in a headquarters capacity" when parts of the nation "are virtual war zones" because of crime, Freeh said.

"Obviously a bureau of this size and complexity needs a substantial headquarters force," he said. "My question is whether it needs that many at a time when, because of budgets and attrition, we're really losing valuable work force resources."

The new director noted that only 400 to 500 agents were at headquarters when he last worked here several years ago, and that the total force then was about 10,000. "The work force hasn't gone up substantially," Freeh said. "Headquarters has."

Stressing that he had "no preconceived notions," Freeh said that he wants "to examine carefully" whether the bureau's traditional advancement track is costing the FBI good managers and leaders.

Under that system, an agent begins in a field office, then moves back and forth between Washington and the field as they climb the advancement ladder, ultimately reaching the point where he or she is considered for a field command, known as special agent in charge.

"If you talk to most agents, there's a consensus that the management career path we've developed is really a tremendous hardship on families," said Freeh, who with his wife, Marilyn, a former FBI employee, has four sons.

"For that reason, a lot of people either don't go into that (advancement) program or opt out of it," he said.

Freeh said that the bureau's system of periodically inspecting its field offices, a procedure that some special agents in charge and field agents contend focuses too much on minutiae, "is a fine system, but has been in place with very little modification for probably 40 years or more."

Freeh said that he wants inspections to concentrate on whether offices are "doing the right cases. In New York City versus Utah, there are different priorities, different community needs. I want to make sure we're focusing (in inspections) on that and not losing sight of that type of evaluation because of more ministerial things."

In remarks at his swearing-in ceremony Wednesday, Freeh noted that "the frightening level of lawlessness which has come upon us like the plague is more than a law enforcement problem. The crime and disorder which flow from hopeless poverty, unloved children, and drug abuse can't be solved merely by bottomless prisons, mandatory sentencing minimums or more police."

In the interview Thursday, Freeh said that his experience as a sentencing judge makes him "appreciate much more strongly than I did before the critical role that those factors play in crime."

"What you begin to see more clearly is that strict law enforcement, incarceration, mandatory minimums, which are all necessary in a very appropriate way, don't really address the root problem of the overwhelming majority of criminal cases that are in our courts, that were in my court in New York," Freeh said.

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