Top federal officials say sequestration cuts putting people's safety at risk

by: Mark Winne Updated:

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ATLANTA —

Metro Atlanta's top federal prosecutor and the special agent in charge of the FBI in Atlanta tell Channel 2 Action News that deep budget cuts are diverting funds from catching criminals, and it's putting public safety at risk.

U.S. Attorney Sally Yates told Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne that budget cuts not only threaten the paychecks of some very talented and already underpaid prosecutors, but also those of the federal agents with whom they work. She said those cuts, in a very real way, threaten the safety of all of us.

"When you have fewer people, when you have less money, when you don't have the resources to do the cases you used to do, there's going to be a public safety impact on the district,"

"We believe the sequestration will and already is impacting our ability to do our job," said Mark Giuliano, FBI agent-in-charge.

Giuliano said as currently projected, a budget crisis will mean, for instance, fewer resources in metro Atlanta to track down allegations of police corruption, fewer man hours devoted to hunting gun-wielding bank robbers and even less resources for counter-terrorism, the FBI's top priority.

Giuliano said agents assigned to counter-terrorism missions, like others, will be forced to take furloughs -- days off without pay.

"The public should be concerned because of the work that we do every day, not just on the national security side but on the criminal side," Giuliano said. "At some point, we can't keep doing more with less. At some point, we have to do less with less."

Giuliano said he and Yates are talking about the budget cuts known as sequestration.

Yates said her crews of federal prosecutors are being affected, too.

"A furlough is just a nice way of saying 'pay cut.' These are hardworking employees, legal assistants, prosecutors in our office that are now going to be told that they are not going to have the same salary that they had to support their family," Yates said. "We're doing everything we can to try to prioritize our cases and to do the most significant cases."

"We don't have a set number of days yet in the FBI. We're talking about as many as 16 days for every employee of the FBI nationwide," Giuliano told Winne.

Yates said there will be furlough days in the U.S. Attorney's Office, as well.

"We don't have a specific number that we've been able to determine for next year yet, but it's going to be certainly more than five days," Yates told Winne.

Giuliano said retiring agents, like Greg Lockett, would be hard to replace even if the money was there.

Besides the furlough, the FBI has already put a hiring freeze into effect, so agents who retire, quit or even get promoted aren't being replaced.

Yates also said the estimate of up to 16 furlough days is for fiscal year 2014.