Inspection of the Influx of New Personnel
Report Number 1-2000-018
As part of the Southwest Border Initiative, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has seen unprecedented growth in the number of new Border Patrol agents in its Southwest Border sectors. The Border Patrol has grown from about 4,200 agents at the beginning of fiscal year (FY) 1995 to about 8,200 at the end of FY 1999. Congress has mandated that the number of on-board Border Patrol agents increase by 1,000 new agents each year from FY 1996 through FY 2001.
INS has reached the required increased staffing goal once in the last four years -- in FY 1998 when 1,076 new agents were added. INS experienced problems from the start in trying to recruit/hire, train, and deploy the large numbers of new Border Patrol agents each year. In 1996, INS did not have the capacity to train sufficient numbers of Border Patrol agents to meet hiring goals. While INS now has the needed training capacity, it cannot recruit enough applicants to meet hiring goals. As a result, INS will not add the required 1,000 new agents in FY 2000. In addition, it is unlikely that INS can reach congressionally mandated hiring goals in the future if they remain at the current level of 1,000 new agents annually.
The three major areas comprising INS's efforts to increase the number of Border Patrol agents each year are recruitment/hiring, training, and deployment. These three areas are interrelated and cannot be pursued independently. For example, if training facilities are insufficient to handle the planned number of new personnel, it makes little difference how many new people INS recruits. In addition, an adequate infrastructure must be in place to accommodate increased staffing because deployment is affected by any hiring increases.
Even though the recruiting and hiring process was working well in 1995, INS has taken steps through the years to improve the process. However, even with increased recruitment efforts, INS will most likely not meet hiring goals for FY 2000. While INS has no definitive answers as to why it is facing recruitment problems, most indicators point to the nation's strong economic situation and low unemployment.
Since 1996, INS has been modifying its written test for screening potential applicants. Many of the Border Patrol agents we interviewed expressed concern that the current test was "weeding out" potentially good candidates. In January 2000, INS modified its scoring procedures allowing applicants to achieve an overall passing score rather than requiring that they pass each section individually. INS believes this scoring change will increase the pool of applicants who are capable of passing the Academy and becoming good agents.
INS has been addressing training problems since our previous review. In 1995, INS did not have the capacity to train a sufficient number of Border Patrol agents. With the addition of Charleston, South Carolina, as a temporary Border Patrol basic training facility, INS now has the capacity to train a sufficient number of agents to meet hiring goals provided recruitment efforts are evenly dispersed throughout the year. However, the Border Patrol Academy continues to rely heavily on detailing agents from the field to augment the permanent staff of instructors, which can adversely affects the ratio of experienced to new agents in the field.
Based on our interviews, we were told both locations, Glynco, Georgia, and Charleston, use the same course material, teach the same courses, and give the same tests. Therefore we concluded that the training offered at the two locations is consistent. Any described differences are based more on student perceptions of the training locations rather than on the formal instruction provided at either location. In addition to the basic agent training, new supervisors are receiving their required training within the first year of assuming their supervisory roles, according to Border Patrol officials.
Even though INS has not met hiring goals, the large number of new agents deployed place greater strains on staff to supervisor ratios, facilities, vehicles, and equipment. Because of various reasons, including Congressional pressure and delays in budget approval, INS still does not provide regions and sectors sufficient advance notice of how many new agents each sector will receive or when they will arrive. Advance notification is necessary for sectors to adequately plan for additional supervisors, support personnel, and equipment.
The Border Patrol is unable to accurately project staffing plans for Border Patrol sectors and stations far enough in advance to keep pace with needed structural upgrades. As a result, stations are not equipped to handle the large influx of arriving agents. For example, a station we visited that was originally built for 60 agents now has to accommodate about 325 agents. There are not enough lockers, desks, and computers for the agents to perform their duties. In addition, there is insufficient parking to protect government and private vehicles from vandalism and theft, and inadequate detention space to handle the additional aliens brought in by the augmented agent force.
Insufficient deployment planning by program managers inhibits the proper planning for new buildings or upgrading of facilities. Insufficient deployment planning has plagued INS since our original report in 1995. Additionally, funding for facilities has not kept pace with INS personnel growth. The INS headquarters facilities personnel said that with the exception of the Alpine, Texas, Border Patrol Station, no new Border Patrol construction projects were appropriated in FY 2000. All other FY 2000 monies for construction were designated to finish projects already under way. Therefore, without additional funding for new Border Patrol construction projects, INS will always be "catching up" in trying to keep pace with the influx of new agents.
Vehicles are still a problem, especially the replacement of older ones. Newer vehicles are arriving with new agents, but older vehicles are not being replaced quickly enough. Because of limited funding in FY 2000, approximately four percent of the vehicles were planned for replacement. This replacement cycle is far too long for Border Patrol vehicles that are subjected to high usage over very rough terrain.
INS has made a significant improvement since our review in 1995 in providing personal equipment for Border Patrol agents. Agents are now adequately equipped with handguns, batons, body armor, radios, binoculars, and night vision goggles. The Border Patrol also has made some improvements in obtaining station equipment, such as sensors, cameras, and infrared scopes, but shortages still exist in this type of equipment at the sectors we visited.
While some support positions have been filled since 1995, not enough have been filled to adequately support the current level of agent staffing -- a problem that is INS service-wide and will only get worse with any further staffing increases. Without sufficient support personnel, Border Patrol agents must spend considerable time in support functions in lieu of direct Border Patrol operations. In all eleven stations we visited, Border Patrol agents are routinely used as mechanics, fleet managers, clerks, radio operators, detention officers, and fence/sensor repairmen.
Because of the large number of new hires over the past few years combined with attrition of experienced agents, the Border Patrol has now become a less experienced organization. In addition, while INS says it is close to achieving its desired ratio of seven agents to one supervisor at all locations, this ratio will not be maintained whenever new agents are hired at a faster rate than supervisors can be selected and trained. As agents are hired in large groups, there will be at least a temporary shifting of the ratio until new supervisors can be selected to correspond with the numbers of these new agents.
The Border Patrol continues to lose its agents through attrition, especially as newer recruits, many of whom have college education, seek higher salaried employment at other Federal law enforcement agencies or elsewhere in the Federal government. To help retain agents, INS is trying various approaches, such as seeking a higher journeyman grade level for Border Patrol agents and testing a pilot project that offers a supervisor the opportunity to voluntarily trade locations with another supervisor, provided that both supervisors pay their own moving expenses.
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