FILE - An FBI employee works in a computer forensics lab at the FBI field office in New Orleans.
FILE - An FBI employee works in a computer forensics lab at the FBI field office in New Orleans.

WASHINGTON - FBI agents working without pay during the prolonged government shutdown have a message for politicians: their financial security is national security.  

With thousands of FBI agents set to miss their first paychecks on Friday as the shutdown moves into Day 20, the association representing the agents is urging Congress and the White House to renew funding for the law enforcement agency immediately, warning that dwindling funds already are hindering the law enforcement agency's operations. 

"As the shutdown continues, Special Agents remain at work for the American people without being paid, and FBI leadership is doing all it can to fund FBI operations with increasingly limited resources — this situation is not sustainable," the group representing a majority of the FBI's 13,000 special agents said in a petition to the White House and Congress released on Thursday.  "The important work done by the Bureau needs to be funded immediately."

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The partial government shutdown, which began Dec. 22 amid a dispute between Congress and President Donald Trump over funds for a border wall, has led government agencies with lapsed funding to furlough or require to work without pay nearly 800,000 essential employees.

While the FBI has kept the vast majority of its special agents on the job during the shutdown, it has sent home nearly 5,000 employees, including intelligence analysts, attorneys, and technical and professional staff, according to Thomas O'Connor, president of the FBI Agents Association. 

"These furloughs mean critical functions that support field operations, like the FBI lab in Quantico and surveillance technical support, are working with reduced staff," O'Connor said Thursday during a press call with reporters.  

FBI Special agents involved in drug trafficking investigations and other undercover operations often use bureau funds to pay informants, make drug buys and cover other expenses.  

"The lapse in funding for the FBI limits the funds available to support these investigations," O'Connor said. 

While keeping agents in the field has allowed critical FBI investigations to go on largely unimpeded, O'Connor warned that the shutdown is likely to take a toll on both operations and the agents who are working without pay. 

"The FBI Headquarters is doing all that they can to make sure that our most important topics are covered but that's going to get more and more difficult as the pot of money gets smaller and smaller and is not refilled," O'Connor said. "This is not about politics for special agents. For special agents, financial security is national security."

The effect of the shutdown is likely to ripple beyond FBI investigations, O'Connor said. While agents missing debt payments could face difficulty passing stringent financial background checks as part of their security clearance, others may be led to look for more financially stable jobs, he said. 

"Failure to fund the FBI will likely undermine agent recruitment and retention," O'Connor said. 

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The FBI did not respond to a request for comment. 

The FBI association's petition comes as two large unions representing government employees have taken the Trump administration to court over the shutdown. 

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal employees including Customs and Border Protection officers, on Thursday sued the administration, saying that requiring government employees to work without pay during the shutdown is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union of federal employees, filed a suit against the administration on Dec. 31, alleging it was illegally forcing hundreds of thousands of workers to work without pay.