More robust personnel oversight could be solution to Border Patrol termination problem

Customs and Border Protection agents, over a 10-year period, were twice as likely to be terminated for disciplinary infractions and poor performance as their counterparts at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other federal agencies, according to the analysis of one policy expert.

And, he said, the Trump administration wants to hire 5,000  more agents.

The Office of Personnel Management collects termination data, such as the number of people let go per agency and the reason why. Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, looked deeper into the data and discovered a growing issue of higher termination rates within CBP.

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“The data is not detailed enough to tell us exactly why each of these government employees has been fired,” Nowrasteh told Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “Everybody who is fired for corruption is counted under the disciplinary and performance terminations designation, but not every disciplinary and performance violation that’s fire-able is [because of] corruption.”

Are CBP agents more likely to be fired?

One of the most common answers falls back on results from a CBP hiring surge in the early-to-mid 2000s. Hiring guidelines may be a lot less restrictive due to the consistent need for more agents. While the customs part of the agency, which runs the ports of entry, had a more modest hiring surge, termination results were almost parallel to that of Border Patrol, Nowrasteh said.

“I think the problem is not necessarily the increase in the agency as much as the poor oversight,” he said. “Until recently, there has not been an effective internal affairs department that is overseeing Border Patrol or other areas of Customs and Border Protection.”

He said this was a legacy of the creation of the Homeland Security Department. The internal affairs authority was shifted from Border Patrol to oversee all of ICE. Factoring in human interaction and often idle hands could also incentivize agents in the direction of misconduct or corruption, he said.

Hiring more agents without addressing the oversight and termination issue is a mistake and will just add to the problem.

“Congress will likely lower the hiring standards for some applications to help reach the president’s staffing goals,” Nowrasteh said in his most recent report. “Border Patrol agents should be more tightly monitored to reduce discipline and performance problems as well as to better measure, and eventually reduce, misconduct and corruption.”

Recommendations

In his policy analysis, Border Patrol Termination Rates: Discipline and Performance Problems Signal Need for Reform, Nowrasteh outlined eight potential solutions to help cut down on personnel termination. These include:

  • Establishing a hiring freeze
  • Reorganizing DHS internal affairs
  • Increasing accountability
  • More GAO audits
  • Improving data
  • Strengthening post-hire investigations and polygraph testing
  • A quicker turnaround of misconduct investigations and increasing public oversight

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) has also addressed the lack of oversight issue in his bill, the Border Security for America Act of 2017, introduced in October. Nowrasteh said the bill would increase the number of internal affairs officers close to the ratio of the New York Police Department.

“The NYPD is not a stellar police organization in terms of internal affairs,” he said. “But it’s better than Border Patrol, so it’s a pretty easy goal and achievable goal.”

The report concludes that the termination rates within Border Patrol may rise initially if recommendations are enacted, but would fall later on as deterrence replaces detection.

“Congress should seek to remedy these serious personnel problems in the federal government’s largest law enforcement agency before hiring new agents or further lowering hiring standards,” the report said.