The time to hire for the agency currently takes about 300 days, with less than 3 percent of applicants successfully completing the hiring process.
Congressional lawmakers are questioning why U.S. Customs and Border Protection continues to struggle to recruit and retain officers.
CBP has not been able to meet its congressionally mandated hiring levels since fiscal year 2014, and “at the current rate, it takes about 50 applicants to hire one CBP officer,” said Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Oversight, Management and Accountability Subcommittee, during a hearing Thursday.
In January 2017, President Trump issued an executive order for CBP to hire 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents. Currently, however, the agency is short 6,927 Border Patrol agents, 1,000 CBP officers and 600 Air and Marine personnel.
“These personnel shortages create national security risks, slows the movement of commerce and puts additional strain on already overworked border security workforce,” Crenshaw (pictured above) said.
The agency has struggled with the efficiency of its “12-step” hiring process, which requires candidates to undergo a medical exam and polygraph. The time to hire takes about 300 days, and less than 3 percent of applicants successfully complete the hiring process.
Crenshaw recently introduced legislation that will eliminate the polygraph test for veterans and law enforcement officers who already have security clearances to speed up hiring within the agency.
CBP is responsible for monitoring the flow of immigration and cargo along 7,000 miles of northern and southern land borders, 95,000 miles of shoreline and 328 ports of entry. It also enforces hundreds of regulations and laws. The agency currently has about 45,000 law enforcement personnel across CBP’s Office of Field Operations, Border Patrol and Air and Marine operations.
In terms of trade, CBP processed more than $2.6 trillion in imports and collected about $4 billion in duties, taxes and fees in fiscal year 2018.
The increased volume of trade and immigration has put a strain on agency officers, particularly at remote borders and ports.
“There’s not enough of us,” acknowledged Benjamine “Carry” Huffman, acting executive assistant commissioner of enterprise services at CBP, during the House subcommittee hearing. “To accomplish the broad scope of CBP’s missions, we need capable and dedicated personnel.”
The agency’s work is challenging and difficult, particularly in remote areas. “Our jobs aren’t for everyone,” Huffman said.
CBP recently formed the National Frontline Recruiting Command to coordinate and strengthen its officer recruiting efforts.
In June, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report recommended that CBP analyze those factors related to CBP officers who leave the agency to improve retention.
Rebecca Gambler, director of GAO’s homeland security and justice team, noted that recent improvements to CBP’s hiring processes have helped shave an average 78 days off the time it takes to hire an officer. The longest parts of the hiring process remain the polygraph and medical exams, she said.
In November 2017, CBP awarded Accenture Federal Services (AFS) a $297 million contract to help it meet Trump’s executive order to boost the ranks of CBP by 7,500 positions.
AFS Chief Executive John Goodman told the House oversight subcommittee that negative media reports and GAO’s report, along with another by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, “painted an inaccurate and incomplete picture of AFS’ performance under the contract. … This is a performance-based contract.”
The contract allows that only 93 percent of funds could be paid to AFS when new agents are hired and report to duty. AFS receives about $40,000 per agent or officer hire under its CBP contract.
Since December, AFS has reviewed more than 4,000 job applicants and was paid about $2 million by CBP for attracting and processing 56 individuals who accepted jobs. In addition, AFS has received $19 million related to meeting security requirements, as well as building the infrastructure for CBP to “better market to, track and service applicants,” Goodman said.
Last summer, however, CBP ordered a partial stop work order related to its AFS hiring contract to make additional changes to its advertising and marketing of jobs with the DHS agencies and develop innovative practices.
Goodman said the reason for this order was that the forecast “hiring timelines did not show the acceleration in the hiring process that both CBP and AFS wanted to see. We immediately engaged with CBP to address these challenges and are continuing to work in partnership with CBP to determine how we can best support their mission.”
Anthony M. Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which represents 27,000 CBP officers, told the House oversight subcommittee that it opposed the AFS hiring contract, stating that the money could have been better spent on incentivizing existing and new hires at CBP to seek to fill vacant positions at hard-to-fill ports of entry.
“We are relieved to learn that CBP is negotiating an end to this costly and wasteful contract,” Reardon said.