The first thing to note about a recent report on corruption at Customs and Border Protection is that the Government Accountability Office study found very few dirty officers.
Arrests of “CBP employees for corruption-related activities since fiscal years 2005 account for less than 1 percent of CBP’s entire workforce per fiscal year,” the GAO says.
Also worth noting is that most arrests, by far, were for such conduct as drunken driving and domestic violence, not such corrupt activities as drug and people smuggling.
Yet the report paints a scary picture about those who are corrupt and a somewhat less than flattering view of agency actions to prevent and uproot rotten eggs. And although the problem is small in terms of the number of employees involved, it is significant enough that House and Senate panels repeatedly have called customs officials to Capitol Hill to discuss misconduct and the sometimes flawed efforts to stem it.
The GAO did its report in response to a request from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Tex.
“The GAO report confirms that not only is corruption still a problem, CBP still lacks adequate controls to detect corruption, such as post-employment polygraphing,” McCaul said. “While CBP polygraphs all new hires, they do not test incumbent employees, whom the CBP Acting Chief Operating Officer has said can become corrupt during their tenure — on average about 8.8 years into service.”
Many people don’t realize that Customs and Border Protection is the largest uniformed law enforcement agency in the United States
“We deploy over 47,000 law enforcement personnel along the U.S. borders, at ports of entry and overseas on a continuous basis in support of our critical border security mission,” Acting Commissioner David Aguilar told Congress last year. “Not only do our officers and agents serve under difficult circumstances and in dangerous environments, they do so in an environment where transnational criminal organizations attempt to exploit our workforce for criminal gains.”
The attempts sometimes are successful.
There “have been a number of cases in which individuals, known as infiltrators, pursued employment at CBP solely to engage in mission-compromising activity,” the GAO reports.
Examples include the customs officer who was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being arrested at her El Paso duty station in 2007 and charged with conspiracy to import marijuana, and a former Border Patrol agent in Comstock, Texas, who was convicted in 2009 and given 15 years for conspiracy to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana.
The GAO report acknowledges that Customs and Border Protection uses various tools — including background investigations, random drug tests and periodic investigations — to thwart corruption. But the report says, “CBP has not developed a comprehensive integrity strategy to encompass all CBP components’ initiatives. Further, CBP has not completed some postcorruption analyses on employees convicted of corruption since October 2004, missing opportunities to gain lessons learned to enhance policies, procedures, and controls.”
The agency did not dispute the report’s findings and has agreed to implement seven GAO recommendations. Joanne Ferreira, a customs spokeswoman, said the agency “will implement appropriate measures to address all of them, including the feasibility of expanding the polygraph program to incumbent law enforcement officers, developing a plan to implement a comprehensive integrity strategy, and completing post-corruption analysis reports for all CBP employees who have been convicted of corruption-related activities to help identify and prevent future corruption and misconduct risks.”
In June 2011, officials from Customs and Border Protection and the inspector general’s office of the Department of Homeland Security were called to a Senate hearing to explain the lack of cooperation between their staffs in corruption probes.
“We must conduct these investigations in an efficient and collaborative way… . This does not seem to be the way we are currently operating,” Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said at the time.
That spat among sibling agencies seems to have been resolved, at least according to officials’ comments now.
“I am pleased with the cooperation we are receiving from CBP and the progress we have been making in stemming corruption,” Deputy Inspector General Charles Edwards said.
Pryor didn’t sound convinced that the reconciliation is complete.
“While improvements have been made, there is still plenty of work to be done,” he said. Senate confirmation of a CBP commissioner and a DHS inspector general, he added, “will provide stability and leadership and allow these agencies to work in a more collaborative fashion.”