BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – When FBI agents were alerted to a photo of a man abusing two young children with a Hawaii Island phone book beside him, they quickly solicited the public’s help in identifying the perpetrator.
Just hours later, they captured John Tucker, 56, of Pahoa, Hawaii, and charged him with production and distribution of child pornography. Tucker was the father of a 10-year-old boy and 7-year-old girl who appeared to be his victims.
When the University of Hawaii lost $200,000 to fake concert promoters promising to put on a Stevie Wonder fundraising concert at the Manoa campus this fall, the University called in the FBI. Within 180 days, the FBI arrested Sean Barreiro of Florida and Marc Hubbard of North Carolina for stealing the money. Barriero pled guilty and Hubbard is awaiting trial.
When Hawaii residents, reportedly some of the most gullible in the nation, regularly fall victim to get-rich-quick schemes, the FBI is the agency called in for clean up, sometimes in conjunction with other local and federal agencies.
These are just a handful of events that required FBI intervention in the last year.
The FBI receives thousands of tips each year related to drug trafficking and organized crime operations, potential terrorist activity and White Collar crime. But the ability of local agents to handle even a fraction of these calls will be hindered by the sequestration, which requires mandatory, across-the-board federal budget cuts beginning Friday, March 1.
FBI Special Agent Tom Simon, who in addition to specializing in White Collar crime investigations is in charge of community and media outreach, confirmed that every Honolulu FBI employee will be furloughed for 14 workdays during the 5-month period of May through September. That is a 12 percent decrease in FBI workdays, where agents won’t be on the streets conducting investigations, he said.
“The sequester will create immediate and significant reductions to the Honolulu FBI’s operations. There is no way around it,” Simon said. “The Honolulu FBI will be forced to do less with our criminal, cyber, and national security investigations in Hawaii.”
The sequestration also starts a hiring freeze at the FBI, so the agency, which is already shorthanded, won’t be able to backfill the senior agents who will choose to retire this year, rather than take pay cuts.
“The furloughs and pay cuts are a big deal to our employees, but they should also be a big deal to the people of Hawaii who rely on us to work with our law enforcement partners to make Hawaii a safe place to live and conduct business,” Simon said. “My colleagues and I are committed to our oaths of office, and we will continue to work hard for Hawaii. But lets get real here – you can’t send us home for 12 percent of our normal work hours and expect the same productivity. The math just doesn’t work.”
According to a Pew report, Hawaii will be one of the states hit hardest financially by the sequestration.
Hawaii has a higher number of government employees than any other state except Alaska, according to a recent Gallup report. That includes more than 100,000 federal workers — 57,000 enlisted and civilian military employees and 52,000 others.
A report from The White House issued this week details the impact of the sequestration on each state.
Federal agencies related to the environment, education, military, public health and law enforcement will all see cuts.
FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies outside of Hawaii will also “see a reduction in capacity equivalent to more than 1,000 Federal agents” – which “would significantly impact the ability to combat violent crime, pursue financial crimes, secure our borders, and protect national security,” the Obama administration said.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, said she is hoping the sequestration can be avoided because they will be “devastating” to Hawaii’s families and economy.
“Hawaii is one of the top 10 states that would take the biggest hit from these cuts,” Gabbard said. “A large percentage of our overall state economy and the impact on our local military-related companies and small businesses will also be significant…”
While many federal employees are understandably concerned about the impact of the sequestration, the Congressional Budget Office said the actual cuts in fiscal year 2013 are $44 billion. Additional cutbacks amounting to a 1 to 2 percent reduction in government spending will take place in 2014 or later.
Even with the sequestration, a recent Reason report notes the federal government will spend more this year than it did last year: $3.5 trillion in 2012 and $3.6 trillion in 2013.
President Barack Obama, who developed the concept of sequestration in August 2011, will meet Friday, the day the sequestration is set to begin, with House Speaker John Boehner, to continue their budget negotiations.
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