“This is a term limit. There’s a statute,’’ the official said. “But when the president calls and you’re the type of guy the director is, it’s very hard to say no.’’
The official said that “you’d have to be blind not to see that there is irony” in Mueller’s decision to stay, but added: “We’re at the highest [terrorist] threat level we’ve ever been. This isn’t the time to change directors.’’
Heimbach said Mueller, a former Marine, may have alienated some agents in the FBI’s “old guard” with his hard-driving, demanding style. Some agents also criticized Mueller in interviews this week as too top-down, aloof and not focused on their concerns.
“Did I like getting up at 4:30 every morning and facing him at 7? Heck no,’’ Heimbach said. “But I respected him, and I can’t imagine the president not wanting to keep him.’’
The up-or-out policy emerged after hundreds of FBI jobs were created in the wake of Sept. 11. It has been challenged in a lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington in December by current and retired agents, that accuses the FBI of discriminating against older agents.
The FBI denies any discrimination and is asking a judge to dismiss the case. In a sworn statement filed in court, FBI Deputy Director Timothy P. Murphy wrote that he was “shocked to learn” in 2002 that so few supervisors were applying for new higher-level management positions.
To encourage more applicants, Murphy and another official designed a plan to limit to five years the terms of supervisory special agents, who manage squads of agents in FBI field offices. The policy was enacted in June 2004 after Mueller signed off on it; the limit was extended to seven years in 2008.
FBI officials argue that it has been highly successful, saying that half of the 1,055 supervisors affected have advanced to higher-level positions, while the rest chose to retire, were demoted or resigned.
But one agent said he was “flabbergasted” that Mueller agreed to stay when others have departed.
“Most people think it’s ironic and hypocritical on his part,’’ the agent said. “A lot of really bright people left. It’s a shame.’’