WASHINGTON – The increase in the number of new U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents along the southern border has made it difficult to screen job candidates and agents suspected of criminal activity.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin told members of a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee that the influx of agents over three years has made it impossible to rescreen thousands of current employees every five years as required.
The hearing Thursday also examined the rift between the border patrol and the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general over who should conduct investigations into agents accused of assisting drug cartels,drug smuggling,human smuggling,money laundering and fraud.
Bersin admitted to mistakes and to having learned from them.
“On the whole,CBP found that its workforce was younger,less experiences and in need of seasoned supervisors,” he said.
Authorities have arrested or indicted 127 U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees for corruption since October 2004,Bersin said. There are 267 ongoing investigations of corruption with known suspects among CBP employees.
The border patrol more than doubled its ranks to 20,700 agents from 2004 to 2010. Officials are still working through more than 15,000 overdue employee background checks that accumulated during the hiring upsurge.
The Anti-Border Corruption Act of 2010 mandated that all backlogged reinvestigations be completed by 2012 and that CBP begin screening all law enforcement applicants with polygraph tests by January 2013.
Edwards reported that 60 percent of applicants fail the polygraph exam due to previous criminal history or drug use. Joanne Ferreira,a spokeswoman for the Border Patrol,said that approximately 22 percent of applicants are polygraphed,and the agency is planning to meet the 2013 deadline.
Sen. Mark Pryor,D-Ark.,the committee chair,questioned Edwards and Bersin about whether friction between their agencies about who will lead investigations had been resolved.
“This is just too important to get into a turf battle on,” Pryor said.
Edwards and Bersin briefly outlined an agreement between the two offices that would place agents from the CBP Office of Internal Affairs under the management of OIG investigators.
“We are hopeful that we can resolve this and have CBP IA agents work under us and bring down the caseload,” Edwards said.
Reach reporter Nadia Tamez-Robledo at [email protected] or 202-326-9865
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