There has been a surge in Border Patrol applications in Trump’s first year in office, but the agency is still losing more employees than it can board. Applications for a Border Patrol agent tripled between FY2013-17, according to a Government Accountability Office study, to 91,000 potential candidates—a 33% increase from the previous year. At the Office of Field Operations at Customs and Border Patrol, applications nearly quadrupled during the same period.
Increases are because CBP boosted its recruiting efforts after President Trump issued an executive order calling for 5,000 new Border Patrol Agents. However, CBP is still struggling to bring these candidates on board. Acceptance rates have more than tripled since FY2015, but even in FY2017, just 1.36% of applicants were offered jobs. In the first half of FY2018, the agency nearly doubled the number of employees it brought on board, compared to the previous year, taking an average of 274 days.
Successes have come from the agency’s push to keep up with attrition. For Customs Officers, CBP spent $4.3 million on recruitment incentives in FY2017, a 548% increase over FY2015. GAO found that most of its less than desirable locations are no longer experiencing staffing decreases. Border Patrol doesn’t use recruitment incentives, officials said, because it’s led to resentment among employees who didn’t receive any.
CBP has also increased recruiting events, from 905 three years ago to 3,000 last year. It created a task force to develop recruiting strategies to make the process a more coordinated effort. The recruitment budget has also doubled in that period.
The agency also made improvements in its 12-step hiring process, leading to faster results. CBP revised its polygraph, although still, only 26% of potential agents passed it last year. Also, adjustments have been made to physical testing and they have received direct hire authority from the Office of Personnel Management for law enforcement jobs.
CBP also signed a contract with Accenture worth close to $300 million to help with recruiting and hiring. Accenture has collected $43 million so far and onboarded around 600 employees.
Congress didn’t authorize any new hires at Border Patrol in the FY2018 omnibus but instead provided $7 million for 351 customs officers at ports of entry. Lawmakers noted that “despite significant investments in hiring, retention, and recruitment strategies,” CBP now expects Border Patrol to lose more agents than it will gain this year.
CBP requested lawmakers reduce its allocation for personnel by more than $200 million because its payroll costs were set to fall short of projections. Congress used the savings to boost CBP-wide recruitment and retention programs as well as “other operational requirements”.
Homeland Security Departments’ inspector general questioned the need for hiring at all, finding that CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have failed to demonstrate an operational justification for dramatic workforce augmentation.