The FBI broke with one of its most storied traditions Wednesday, announcing changes in its top management that, rather than elevating onetime agents, tapped officials with extensive experience outside of the bureau for several key positions.
The realignment, unveiled by Director Robert S. Mueller III, put nonagents -- including one who is a former oil company executive and another who rose through the ranks of the CIA -- at the helms of three of the bureau's five major branches.
The moves were a tacit acknowledgment of troubles the FBI has had keeping up with advancements in areas such as science, computer technology and human resources.
The changes also reflect the FBI's rapid growth since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: The bureau's workforce has increased by thousands, and its mission has changed from focusing on law enforcement to gathering intelligence and rooting out terrorists.
The personnel shuffle, Mueller said, was aimed at "areas where we need expertise from the outside ... to enable us to do the investigative and intelligence functions that are at the heart of what we do."
He added: "If you come into the FBI as an agent, ... you come in wanting to be an investigator. So bringing in people with [different] expertise is important."
The changes leave FBI careerists in charge of the bureau's criminal and intelligence branches. Mueller also named a longtime agent to fill a new position of associate deputy director. But he created three positions that he filled with bureau employees who made their mark elsewhere.
Donald E. Packham, a former BP senior executive, will oversee human resources and training. Kerry E. Haynes, a former CIA director of technical collection, was picked to run a new science and technology branch.
Chief Information Officer Zalmai Azmi, whose resume includes a stint as a project manager at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, was given expanded duties in his role overseeing the bureau's computer operations.
Mueller also established a unit to study threats from weapons of mass destruction and named Vahid Majidi, a scientist formerly at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, as its director.
Since the days of J. Edgar Hoover, the bureau has been famously hidebound, promoting from within for its key positions. The longtime director had a vision of agents as renaissance men capable of handling any challenge thrown their way. But as the bureau has grown, many say that concept has lost viability.
Mueller's moves won praise from those pushing for the bureau to chart a new course.
"It is a welcome change," said Athan Theoharis, a professor emeritus of history at Marquette University in Wisconsin, who has written several books about the history of the FBI. "It reflects a sense that the bureau is not the center of knowledge and that you really can improve the bureau by bringing in people from the outside who have specialized knowledge. It has been a very insular agency."
The changes follow other steps Mueller has taken to rejigger the bureau's workings since Sept. 11.
He has redeployed thousands of agents from crime-fighting to terrorism prevention and reached into agencies such as the National Security Agency for help in running the bureau's intelligence unit. He has overseen the hiring of hundreds of analysts to look over the shoulders of agents and advise them about potential threats. And under his guidance, the bureau has attempted to create a separate career track that puts the analysts on a par with agents.
Whether those moves will be embraced by the rank and file is far from clear. Some critics of the bureau say the recalibration is destined to fail because the bureau's culture perpetuates a focus on fighting crime rather than sniffing out terrorist threats.
Problems with technology and personnel have been behind some of the bureau's biggest headaches in recent years. The FBI is still recovering from an ill-fated computer upgrade that was ultimately scrapped at a cost of more than $100 million. A bungled fingerprint analysis at its Virginia crime laboratory resulted in a Muslim lawyer in Oregon being falsely accused of having a hand in the 2004 Madrid train bombings.
Mueller, the FBI director since 2001, on Wednesday acknowledged mistakes on his part. "I did not do the things that I should have done" to prevent the computer system foul-up, he said. "I don't expect to make those same mistakes again."
The bureau also is coping with chronic turnover among top managers who are leaving for better-paying jobs in the private sector as corporations improve their security. For instance, the bureau's top national security official departed in June for a security job with a major cruise line operator.
Mueller said that Packham, the new personnel chief, would have broad-ranging responsibility throughout the FBI, "from recruitment to hiring to training to executive development," as part of the effort to respond to the turnover.
Mueller said he hoped that as the bureau's new managers settled into their posts, they would help restore stability to the bureau. "I'm not asking anybody here to sign a blood oath," he said. "But my expectation is we'll be stable for the foreseeable future."