WASHINGTON -- The FBI will temporarily send 50 additional agents to Maryland in coming weeks as part of a major shake-up at FBI headquarters that eventually will move 600 agents from desk jobs to field assignments in the nation's cities, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh said yesterday.
In a blunt assessment of the agency's failings, Mr. Freeh said the FBI for years has "been top-heavy with supervisors and unnecessary levels of review and decision-making" that it can't afford in the face of budget cuts that have frozen the hiring of agents until 1996.
Nationwide, the agency has 10,078 agents, and one of every 12 works in Washington handling paper, Mr. Freeh said during a news conference at FBI headquarters.
"Here is one hard fact of life that cannot be ignored," he said. "We need fewer agents behind desks and more on the streets investigating and arresting criminals, corrupt public officials, spies, drug dealers, mobsters, gang members and terrorists."
Attorney General Janet Reno pledged to lobby Congress and the Clinton administration for the $24 million Mr. Freeh says he will need to move 600 supervisors and administrators to investigative jobs.
She urged other federal, state and local law enforcers to follow the FBI's lead in trimming their command staffs.
"I suspect that these initiatives by the FBI will show any agency -- any agency -- that they can put more agents and officers back on the street," she said. "We're not talking here about shuffling papers or putting pins in a reorganization chart. We're talking about putting people into the field, into the communities and onto the streets of America."
In Maryland, that translates into 23 more agents in Baltimore and 27 more in Hyattsville, in Prince George's County, where state and local police have been swamped by drug gangs in the Washington suburbs.
"That's a lot of new troops, and we're glad to have them," said Danny Coulson, the Baltimore special agent in charge, who oversees 180 agents in Maryland and Delaware.
"It's not going to produce overnight results, but it gives us a sizable group of people we can use to go in and really do some damage to the drug organizations operating in the state of Maryland.
"What we're seeing is gangs -- New York gangs, Philadelphia gangs, home-grown gangs -- coming into an apartment complex and using it to take over an entire neighborhood. With this big an infusion of agents and equipment, we should be able to go in and take a few of them out. And that can liberate a whole community."
Mr. Freeh said that the 50 additional Maryland agents, along with 100 in Washington, will be on assignment from FBI headquarters for at least six months until funds are made available to pay for the mass transfer.
At that time, those agents and 150 others from headquarters will be moved to cities around the country.
An additional 300 supervisory agents in local field offices will be shifted to investigative jobs in the cities where they now work. Many of them are expected to retire, which would open positions for minorities and women in an agency that has been criticized in recent years as a white-male bastion.
The plan could take as long as three years to complete, Mr. Freeh said. It is not known how many of the 50 additional Maryland agents will be permanently assigned to the state.
Mr. Freeh said that no agents will be transferred from the FBI's nationwide crime lab, which serves hundreds of police departments around the country and is months behind in handling its cases, unless he is given the money to replace them with technicians.
In Baltimore, Mr. Coulson said, the 23 temporary agents will be used to form a second seven-member violent crimes unit and to bolster the local office's fugitive, bank robbery and drug enforcement units.
Mr. Coulson said that he does not expect problems in absorbing the increase in his staff.
"We've been planning this for a couple of months now," he said. "We have cars ready for them. We have radios ready for them -- everything they need. They're going to walk in, pick up a file and go straight to work."
News of the agents' pending arrival met with approval from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
"I'm pleased that the president is taking action to back up his promises to local government," the mayor said in a statement.
Sam Ringgold, spokesman for the city Police Department, saw it in more basic terms.
"The federal government has a lot of resources -- money, technology and equipment -- that we don't have," he said.
"Any time we can get more of that, it's a good thing."