Washington: US President Barack Obama on Thursday proposed extending the decade-long term of FBI director Robert Mueller by two years, saying continuity was critical to tackling terror threats.
Mueller, appointed by ex-president George W Bush in 2001, took over the Federal Bureau of Investigation a week before the September 11 attacks, which led to a global anti-terror campaign which has dominated his tenure.
"In his 10 years at the FBI, Bob Mueller has set the gold standard for leading the bureau," Obama said, adding that the FBI chief "had impeccable law enforcement and national security credentials”.
"Given the ongoing threats facing the United States, as well as the leadership transitions at other agencies like the Defence Department and Central Intelligence Agency, I believe continuity and stability at the FBI is critical at this time."
FBI directors are limited by law to serving single 10-year terms and their appointments must be confirmed by Congress. In the case of Mueller`s extension, new legislation will be required.
Obama added that Mueller, the sixth FBI director, had transformed the bureau "into a pre-eminent counterterrorism agency, he has shown extraordinary leadership and effectiveness at protecting our country every day since."
The announcement comes just days after Obama ordered a US commando raid on a Pakistani compound in which al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed after a decade-long global manhunt.
A treasure trove of intelligence obtained in the raid has revealed that the architect of the 2001 attacks had remained very involved in planning further terror operations around the world despite his isolation.
Welcoming plans to extend Mueller`s term, Attorney General Eric Holder said Mueller had "led the transformation of the FBI into what today is the world`s pre-eminent counterterrorism agency" in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
"The United States faces ongoing threats from terrorists intent on attacking us both at home and abroad, and it is crucial that the FBI have sustained, strong leadership to confront that threat," Holder added.
Obama`s move also won broad support on Capitol Hill.
"The bureau has seen significant transformation since September 11, 2001, and Director Mueller has handled this evolution with professionalism and focus," said Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"I am fully supportive of this decision."
The top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell also backed the move as did Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.
She said in the last decade that the FBI "has prevented major terror plots against the United States”, played a significant role in 20 counterterrorism operations and helped prosecute more than 300 people.
"FBI investigations have provided the evidentiary backbone for those trials and have directly led to putting hundreds of terrorists behind bars," Feinstein said in a statement.
A rare note of reservation was struck by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who said that though he was open to the idea of Mueller`s extension, it could set a "risky precedent”.
"Thirty-five years ago Congress limited the FBI director`s term to one, 10-year appointment as an important safeguard against improper political influence and abuses of the past," Grassley said.
"I will need to know more about (Obama`s) plan to ensure that this is not a more permanent extension that would undermine the purposes of the term limit."
The current procedure for nominating FBI directors and limiting their tenure to 10 years was brought in around the death in 1972 of the powerful J Edgar Hoover, who had maintained an iron rule in the post for 48 years.
Hoover, who was the first FBI director, was credited with building up the bureau as a crime-fighting agency, but became a controversial figure accused of harassing political activists and amassing secret files on political leaders.