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Flood of new federal officers since Sept. 11 leaves training center crammed
By Russ Bynum, Associated Press
BRUNSWICK, Ga. — There's enough ammunition at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center to fight a small war, but the 15 million rounds of bullets and shotgun shells have barely lasted the year.
The crush of new federal officers hired since Sept. 11 has stretched resources to the limit at the center, which trains agents and officers for 76 federal agencies.
James Lanier, chief of the center's Firearms Division, said he has made a few emergency credit card buys to keep from running out of ammo.
"We're maxing out our facilities and maxing out our instructors to provide the training, whereas before we at least had some breathing room," Lanier said.
The 130 instructors have been working six-day weeks since January. Some of them will soon pull double shifts at the 17 firing ranges so students can train after dark.
The center, established on the Georgia coast in 1975, has had its training load double in the past year as the government rushed to hire new officers to improve homeland security.
Including its satellite campuses in New Mexico and South Carolina, the center has trained 52,000 federal law officers since Sept. 11, compared with 26,000 the previous year.
Though it does not handle FBI or Drug Enforcement Agency agents, those it does train include Secret Service, Border Patrol and Customs agents, Capitol police officers, air marshals, and police officers who guard the nuclear power plants of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
"They're all over the place," said Rep. Jack Kingston, a Republican whose district includes the center. "The Park Service police, you'd think they're guarding Yellowstone. But they guard the Mall and the Washington Monument, places of very high profile that could be targets for attacks."
If Congress and the President agree to put guns in the cockpits of commercial airlines, many of the nation's 70,000 pilots would train at the center as well.
The center expanded to a six-day training week in January and has housed some trainees in hotels up to 30 miles away. Many of the center's 2,500 instructors get just one full weekend off a month.
The load has begun to take a toll on morale, said center Director Connie L. Patrick. When she was sworn in as director last month, Patrick said more time off for employees was her highest priority.
"They were gung-ho after Sept. 11. They would work seven days, 24 hours a day," Patrick said. "But now it has been about a year, and there's the burnout factor. No matter how much you want to do the job, physically and spiritually you can't do that."
Congress has given the center authority to hire back up to 250 retirees with no penalties against their pensions. So far it has hired 92.
The headquarters, which trained 76 percent of center graduates last year, is also relying more on its satellite campuses. Plainclothes air marshals who guard domestic flights are being trained in Artesia, N.M., while additional Border Patrol agents have been sent to Charleston, S.C.
Patrick says next year will be the center's busiest ever, with about 56,000 students expected. The new Transportation Security Administration is building new facilities to train its agents, expanding the Brunswick campus' 1,500 acres.
The center, which falls under the Treasury Department, hopes to see its $200 million budget expand.
"Certainly they need additional training facilities in terms of firing ranges," said Jimmy Gurule, Treasury's undersecretary for enforcement. "I would like to see them have additional funding for housing facilities and additional trainers."
There has been talk of moving FLETC from Treasury and into the Justice Department or the new Department of Homeland Security. Kingston has spoken in Congress against putting the center under the Justice Department's control, saying he's concerned it might have to compete with the FBI for funding.
Patrick says her agency will do its job wherever the center ends up.
"We think it's kind of exciting," she said. "It's nice to be kind of
fought over. If nobody wanted us, I'd be more concerned about that."