When FBI employees behave badly, the bureau lets their co-workers know
By MATT ZAPOTOSKY | The Washington Post | Published: March 11, 2016
WASHINGTON — In a recent two-year stretch, 126 FBI agents or employees were disciplined for offenses ranging from drinking and driving and sexual misconduct to misusing their government charge cards. Then their escapades — which represented just a fraction of the misconduct at the bureau — were broadcast for all their colleagues to see.
For years, the FBI has been sending out quarterly emails which describe, in fairly specific detail, individual incidents of employee misconduct and the penalties that followed. The tactic is now being embraced by other federal law enforcement agencies seeking to deter their workers from misbehaving.
A Secret Service spokesman said his agency publicizes individual malfeasance reports internally. Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz told the National Law Journal that last year he began posting short summaries of some investigations online. Officials at the Drug Enforcement Administration recently chatted with their counterparts at FBI about the initiative and hoped to start sending their own quarterly misconduct email later this year, a spokesman said.
Candice M. Will, an FBI assistant director who heads the Office of Professional Responsibility, said the email is "not intended to be a shaming document. It's intended to be an instructive device." But she concedes that fear of having your misdeeds publicized to co-workers could serve as a deterrent.
"This," she said, "is the most-read internal document."
There are pitfalls. The reports periodically make their way outside the confines of the bureau, leading to embarrassing news stories. In 2011, CNN reported on a host of misdeeds detailed in leaked reports, ranging from an employee threatening to release a sex tape he had made with his girlfriend to a supervisor watching porn in his office while "satisfying himself." The news network obtained even more reports a few years later and broke news of a "rash of sexting" cases at the bureau.
The employees are not named in the reports, and Will said other information that could lead to their identities is removed. Some within the bureau bristle at the wide dissemination, while others say they're glad to learn about the penalties for various wrongdoing, Will and other FBI officials said.
The Washington Post obtained two years worth of reports, running from 2013 into 2015, through a Freedom of Information Act request. The entire narrative section from each report was removed, leaving only a subject line and the discipline each employee received. Even those bare bones accounts, though, seemed to indicate serious instances of wrongdoing.
One employee was fired for assault and battery, DUI, misuse of position and failure to report. Another was let go for improper relationship with a source, sexual misconduct, misuse of a government computer, unprofessional conduct and unauthorized disclosure.
Sixteen employees were disciplined for drinking and driving, 12 for misusing their position, 18 for showing a lack of candor and 11 for misusing FBI databases or government computers. Bureau officials declined to provide more details on any incidents.
A bureau spokesman said the incidents represented only a representative sample of the employees disciplined over that time period. Will said 351 complaints were investigated last year and 240 were substantiated in some way.
Reynaldo Tariche, an agent in the New York field office and president of the FBI Agents Association, said agents "believe that any misconduct is not acceptable and should not occur," but he noted the bureau has tens of thousands of employees and only a few hundred incidents of misconduct each year.
"That's a pretty small percentage," he said.
Will said she started sending the emails years ago in hopes of educating bureau employees about the types of penalties that would come with misconduct. Real life examples, she figured, would have a more serious impact than hypothetical training scenarios.
"You read it, and it sticks to you," she said.
Will said she believes the program works. Even if misconduct does not drop quarter to quarter, employees and managers tell her the emails help keep them informed. And, she said, they help send the message that the FBI has high behavior standards.
"I think if anyone had the impression you could get away with stuff here," Will said, "this disavows them of that notion."
The Washington Post's Adam Goldman and Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.