FBI's Most Wanted List: More Women and Minority Agents

Newsday

High on the FBI's most wanted list are women and minorities--as agents.

"WOMEN, Earn $28,998 As A Career Special Agent With The FBI," read full-page advertisements in such specialized magazines as Professional Engineer, Collegiate Career Woman and Washington Woman.

In Miami, radio stations carry advertisements in Spanish aimed at recruiting Latinos.

Only Center in Nation

And in suburban Alexandria, Va., outside the door of a modern and attractive atrium-style office building, a sign reads simply: "Federal Bureau of Investigation Career Center." It is the first and only such FBI center in the nation. Inside, packets of information and applications are neatly stacked beneath a blue, white and gold FBI logo on the wall.

The result of those and other efforts has been a slow but steady change in the makeup of the nation's premier law enforcement agency. FBI Director William H. Webster is committed to doing even more, but he is satisfied with his progress so far.

Carries Figures

When asked about the FBI's affirmative-action program at a recent breakfast with reporters, he reached into his coat pocket for a small notebook with the latest hiring figures. He carries the figures along with his FBI credentials, a sign of the issue's priority, his aides say.

"We have gone from 94 female agents when I came on board to 583," Webster said, reading from the notebook. "For blacks, the figures are 144 to 314. I think the same can be said for Hispanics, from 155 to 318, for native Americans, from 15 to 38, and 34 Asian-Americans to 93. I don't know how much faster you could go."

A tall, trim, soft-spoken man with a genteel manner, Webster, who is 60, was named director in 1978 after serving eight years as a federal judge in Missouri, first in District Court and then in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Yes, I think the program has proved itself, not only in bringing them on board, but in terms of their assimilation and acceptance. Their contributions to the bureau have been outstanding," Webster said.

Special Agents

Those contributions have existed only since affirmative hiring was begun after the death in 1972 of J. Edgar Hoover, the autocratic director who ran the FBI in his own image for 48 years. The bureau now has an all-time high of 8,795 agents (all of them officially designated as "special agents"), but even Webster concedes that the number of female and minority agents is not as high as it should be.

Affirmative action efforts have been a major struggle at an agency that often believed the larger-than-life storybook fantasies about itself. After 12 years, minority Americans, including Asians and American Indians, make up only 8.5% of FBI agents. Women account for 6.5% of the total.

To improve the pace of recruitment and personally stress its importance, Webster last year instituted a program of direct accountability for bureau managers. Now, a key factor in promotion and evaluation of supervisors is how well they have done in bringing in and promoting minorities and women. In addition, important changes have been made in the interviewing, hiring and training of new agents.

Old-Boy Network

To understand where the FBI is going, it is necessary to understand where it has been. When Hoover took over what was then known as the Bureau of Investigation in 1924, women and minorities were not sought as agents. In Hoover's day of manufactured elitism, the only persons the agency recruited were those it found with the help of an old-boy network within the FBI. Candidates were chosen from among agents' sons, brothers, nephews, neighbors and Army buddies. Hoover enforced strict rules of behavior for his agents: He even mandated that they wear white shirts, dark ties, fedoras and black, laced shoes.

Hoover used to deny that he discriminated against blacks by saying he had four or five such special agents. At first, these were his chauffeurs and servants at headquarters who were given agent status so that they would not be drafted during World War II. Hoover later relaxed his white-only policy, but at his death fewer than 1% of his agents were black.

Women suffered a setback when Hoover took over the Bureau of Investigations. The records show that in the early 1920s, women had been sworn in and given badges.

Forced to Resign

Three women were on the staff when Hoover assumed control. Within months, however, Hoover forced two of them to resign.

The third, Lenore Houston, was actually promoted to agent status by Hoover as a result of political pressure from a congressman. While her initial performance ratings were excellent, after a transfer to the Washington, D.C., office, her superiors complained that her work had declined. Houston resigned in 1928. The last report about her in the bureau's files, dated 1930, indicates that she was confined to a hospital with hallucinations and was threatening to shoot Hoover if she were released.

It was nine days after Hoover's death that the attack on his legacy was begun by L. Patrick Gray, the newly appointed assistant director of the bureau, who announced plans to update the makeup of the FBI. But today's bureau, despite its affirmative action efforts, is not without critics. Questions linger about whether the changes are only cosmetic.

"The appearance is that they are doing the right thing, saying the right thing, but it really is all image," said Kayleen Driscoll, who resigned in March after 11 years in the bureau.

Act of Treason

Another former agent, Christine Hansen, one of the first women hired (she joined the bureau in 1972), quit and then filed a successful class-action discrimination lawsuit. The suit, brought seven years ago, is still likened to an act of treason by the bureau's hierarchy, which continues to nurture a family image.

As a result of the Hansen suit, the bureau has already paid damages of about $1 million to dozens of women. Washington lawyer John Rich predicts that the figure will be even larger, perhaps double, by the time all of the cases are settled.

Although Hoover's successors, Gray and Clarence M. Kelley, made initial efforts to implement affirmative action among women, blacks, Latinos, Asians and American Indians, it was not until Webster took the reins that a true commitment began. After years of unimpressive statistics, a national recruitment program has been given top priority.

R. Douglas Rhoads, who is directing the program, said his task is to pay particular attention to staffing the FBI in the next 20 years with women and minorities. "It's new to us. I don't think we've been effective, in terms of pure numbers," he said.

Must Have Degree

Candidates must be citizens, between the ages of 23 and 35 and in excellent health. Applicants must also have a degree in either law, accounting, language or science.

The bureau also accepts candidates with other college degrees if they also have three years of outside work experience or a postgraduate degree and two years of work experience.

There is no shortage of applicants. About 16,000 job seekers apply each year. The problem is finding the right mix.

"We have a specific need to find agents who mirror the country," Rhoads said.

The most aggressive tactic has been to attend and often speak at national conferences of black and Latino professional organizations. The idea is to maintain a high profile among minority professionals.

Some black agents sent on these recruiting efforts said they still encounter negative reactions lingering from the bureau's harassment and wiretapping of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Discuss Impressions

Assistant Director William Baker said the anti-law-enforcement attitude of minorities certainly existed in the 1970s, but he believes that the feeling has faded. Baker said the best way to overcome this attitude is to have successful minority agents appear at career conferences and speaking engagements to discuss their impressions and experiences. "By doing this, we break down those barriers, whether they are real or not," Baker said.

The current generation of blacks, Rhoads said, "asks about career options."

In return for the cost of their training and other expenses, the new agents have an unwritten commitment to spend at least three years with the bureau. But, after a few years of service, many of the minorities and some of the women find that they can command higher salaries in the corporate world.

Although the FBI cannot match lucrative corporate salaries, it argues that its agents get job satisfaction. "They obviously are not in this business to make money. There is a feeling of responsibility, that they are doing something worthwhile. Patriotism, that is why they stay," Baker said.

Enjoyed His Work

One black agent who resigned recently was Larry Wansley. He is now a director of employee relations in the Dallas Cowboys organization, a job that includes counseling and other support for players with personal problems. Wansley said that he enjoyed the undercover narcotics work he did as an agent but that he had tired of it. When he looked around for a new role in the bureau, Wansley saw no place to go.

One alternative was a desk job. "That was the pits; that was not for me," Wansley said. So when the Cowboys offered him a job with a "tremendous increase" in salary and a new challenge, he left.

Wansley never viewed the FBI as being his career, referring to his 10-year stint as a "very good training ground." He is not disgruntled. "My time in the bureau was super. I sincerely think it is a great organization. It did a lot for me," he said, "but there was just no question about leaving when the offer came."

Narcotics Cases

But some do leave because they are dissatisfied. Blacks and Latinos are often pressed into doing difficult and dangerous undercover work. Although the agents want career advancement, their supervisors want to keep them in the field where they are badly needed to work high-priority narcotics cases.

Baker acknowledged that minorities in the FBI are often sought by private firms "that want the same top people."

He said the turnover of women is prompted by different reasons. "Women get married and have families, and they have much more difficulty with our transfer policy and adjusting career and family," Baker said.

Other women who left believed that the bureau's commitment to women consisted only of token positions at headquarters and not assignments to the high-powered command positions in the field.

Merrie Spaeth, a former White House fellow who worked on the affirmative action plan while assigned to FBI headquarters in the early 1980s, concedes that keeping this new wave of agents is going to take time.

High Motivation

"People used to get recruited by word of mouth. Usually, a father, brother or a neighbor was an agent. These new people always wanted to be an FBI agent. There was tremendously high motivation to succeed," Spaeth said.

"As they started to recruit other than white males, these people walked into a situation and found a highly spirited, team-oriented type of organization. Frankly, it is hard for outsiders to break into that. It is taking a while, and I think it will take a while for that to even out.

"You really have to want it" to succeed there, Spaeth added. "It is only now that you are starting to have young women and others who are growing up wanting more than anything else to be agents."

Spaeth, now a bank vice president in Dallas, said the FBI under Webster is absolutely committed to change. "More than any other organization, they are trying to change their own thinking from top to bottom," she said.

Left After Decade

Kayleen Driscoll left the bureau after more than a decade as an agent, the last few years spent at Washington headquarters, where she was program manager in the white-collar crime section. She felt that she was not being moved along fast enough.

"Every time it was my turn for promotion, the requirements changed or were altered enough so that it put me in a different category," Driscoll said.

She received her promotion to headquarters, she claimed, only after filing a lawsuit in 1979 about her assignments. She said women were not given the same opportunity as men to advance at that critical field-office level, where the cases are actually worked.

The FBI has no women or Asians heading any of its 59 field divisions as special agents in charge (SACs) or assistants. There is only one black SAC, Wayne Davis, who heads the Detroit office.

There is one Latino who is an assistant special agent in charge. He recently filed a complaint charging that he was discriminated against as a Catholic by his Mormon supervisor in the Los Angeles office.

Career Program

In response, Baker notes that 35% of black agents are in a career-development program that will eventually lead to important posts. On the average, he said, field SACs have 19 years of experience.

"It takes time once you enter to accumulate the experience that would place you in consideration," Baker said. "But we do show that we have a representative number of people developing in this process."

Baker said fewer than 32% of white agents are in the career development program but about 15% of the women are.

Driscoll, who later abandoned her suit, believe that that few women will ever find themselves on those high-powered career paths.

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