Recent memos have charged the Department of Homeland Security with hiring 15,000 Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. The plan is to hire 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents and 500 Air and Marine agents. Homeland Security secretary John Kelly says they are unsure of where additional funding will come from to help with hiring.
These plans should “balance growth and interagency attrition by integrating workforce shaping and career paths for incumbents and new hires.”
These memos are also instructing ICE to hire 10,000 agents and officers, in addition to “operational and mission support and legal staff necessary to hire and support their activities.”
In the past, DHS leaders have said the average time to hire at the department is 125 days, while the government-wide average has been about 100 days. CBP has struggled to quickly hire border patrol agents. After condensing its 12-step hiring process, the agency’s time to hire went from more than 400 days to around 170.
The agency is already about 1,600 agents below the congressional staffing level of 21,370. The National Border Patrol Council sees CBP’s polygraph requirement as a deterrent of hiring talented individuals. “The polygraph process is an overreaction to some of the past corruption throughout the CBP.” They’ve also said, “we’re encouraging the new commissioner to take a closer look at that program because it’s failing more than 50 percent of the people applying.”
Turnover at the border patrol has been high, as agents leave for other law enforcement jobs and others retire. “We’re coming up on the 20-year mark from when we started the Operation Hold the Line and Operation Gatekeeper hiring pushes during the mid to late 90’s. A lot of those people hired then are becoming eligible for retirement.”
The last hiring push came in 2004-05. Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, hopes that past mistakes won’t repeat. “We’ve said in the past that you can’t cut corners on the training. You can’t shorten the academy in hopes of pushing more people through.”
Finding competent candidates seems to also be a challenge. Meeting suitability standards has been a tough hurdle for some border patrol agents in the past as CBP and ICE typically have had “onerous” requirements. “We want to make sure we go after people who have the right mindset. This is a job where you need to be able to think for yourself. You’re often going to be working alone in remote areas. Your backup probably isn’t close by,” Moran said.
Retention is another challenge since many agents are hesitant to relocate or stay in remote areas along the southern border. Moran also said the agency needs to offer better incentives.