FBI Agents Struggling to Get by in High-Cost Urban Areas

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By Steve Neavling

Many FBI agents living in high-cost urban areas are facing financial hardships, resulting in extended commutes or shared housing situations, bureau and Justice Department officials told NPR

“They’re having to juggle being able to afford rent and/or utilities versus being able to actually buy groceries, so it’s getting to a level where it’s becoming very, very difficult to not only recruit agents into these high cost of living areas, but also retain them in those areas,” Natalie Bara, president of the FBI Agents Association, said.

More than two-thirds of agents who live in high-cost areas said they have a hard time surviving on their salaries, according to a survey last year.

The Agents Association is calling for a housing allowance for workers who pay high rent or mortgages because they live in New York, Newark, Honolulu, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Miami, Seattle and Washington, D.C. 

The group is requesting $165 million to be added to the Justice Department’s 2025 budget to finance a pilot program.

“There are multiple stressors that folks experience,” Caroline Otto, assistant director of the FBI’s Resource Planning office, said. “We have heard very compelling and heart-wrenching stories across the workforce in these areas.”

FBI agents have minimal control over their placement once they graduate from the academy. 

The starting salary for FBI agents in New York, for example, is about $73,000. But a nonprofit group said people need to receive at least $100,000 a year to afford food, housing and transportation in that city. For a family of four, that number reaches $150,000. 

“We are looking for a more permanent, sustainable solution for all individuals within these high-cost field offices,” Otto said.

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