Inspection of the Influx of New Personnel
Report Number 1-2000-018
RECRUITMENT AND HIRING
In our October 1995 report, we noted that INS's centralized process for recruiting and hiring Border Patrol Agents was effective. Since 1995, INS has made some modifications to the process to further improve efficiency and effectiveness. However, INS is not recruiting sufficient numbers of candidates to meet congressionally mandated hiring goals and will mostly likely continue to have problems in meeting future recruitment goals if they remain at the current level of 1,000 new agents annually.
INS will not recruit enough applicants to fill academy classes and to meet hiring goals in FY 2000. INS no longer can maintain a reserve pool of potential candidates as it did in 1995 when there were approximately 17,500 candidates who had passed the initial eligibility screening (e.g., citizenship, age). At that time, the Border Patrol Academy did not have the capacity to train this number of new recruits. Today, the problem is the insufficient number of individuals seeking Border Patrol employment. The overall number of individuals initially applying to take the entrance exam has increased, but the number of candidates actually following through on employment by showing up and taking the test has dropped. While INS has no definitive answers as to why it is facing a problem with recruiting, most indicators point to the nation's strong economic situation and low unemployment. It appears that the present economic situation will not change in the near future, thus supporting the conclusion that the Border Patrol will continue to face recruiting problems in the foreseeable future.
Based on historical data, the Border Patrol needs about 45 eligible candidates at the beginning of the hiring process to have one candidate enter the Border Patrol Academy because of no shows and testing failures. Failures at the Academy and attrition further add to the number of applicants needed in the beginning of the hiring process to eventually meet the goal of increasing the overall number of Border Patrol agents.
To assist in its recruitment efforts, INS trained approximately 200 Border Patrol agents during 1999 to perform recruiting as a collateral duty. The Border Patrol says it can do a better job of recruiting with its uniformed agents because they bring a more personal touch to the recruiting process instead of using more informal approaches (e.g., videos, posters). In addition, uniformed agents can provide realistic answers to questions about Border Patrol operations. The Border Patrol concludes, supported by its own preliminary statistics, that use of uniformed agents has been successful because of the increased number of recruits it obtained during the first three months of FY 2000.
The Border Patrol is becoming a less experienced organization. Border Patrol supervisors we interviewed said the new recruits possess extensive computer skills and are very creative, but lack life or work experiences. Border Patrol supervisors said that most of the new recruits eventually develop into good Border Patrol agents, but it takes more time and supervision than with recruits who have had prior law enforcement or military experience. Providing needed supervision becomes more difficult when the number of supervisors and experienced agents is limited.
Because approximately 37 percent of recent new recruits have college education, these agents have more options open to them because, unlike the Border Patrol, some Federal law enforcement agencies require college degrees for entry levels. After finishing the Academy, these new Border Patrol agents become very marketable because they have skills learned at the Academy, they are already employed by the Federal government, and they have passed security background checks.
Even though the hiring process was working well in 1995, INS has continually taken steps to improve the process. During our initial review, the Special Examining Unit in INS's headquarters coordinated the recruiting and hiring efforts for the Border Patrol. In early FY 1999, the Special Examining Unit's hiring functions were transferred to the National Hiring Center (Center) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while the recruiting efforts remained in INS's headquarters. According to the INS personnel we interviewed, the Center is handling the hiring process more efficiently and effectively than the Special Examining Unit. Computerization at the Center has replaced the manual record keeping used by the headquarters unit. This computerization enables the Center to keep better track of applicants during their processing, to quickly answer questions from both INS personnel and applicants on the status of applicant processing, and to provide detailed reports on each stage of applicant processing (e.g., drop outs, failures, attrition rates).
The Center, with assistance from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), has the capability to expeditiously bring a large number of new agents on board. As it did in 1995, INS still uses the Telephone Application Processing System (TAPS) as an integral part of the hiring process. Applicants can call TAPS to determine whether they meet minimum qualifications (e.g., citizenship, age) for Border Patrol employment. While TAPS was the primary source of potential candidates in 1995, candidates now use the OPM internet web site approximately 80 percent of the time to apply for Border Patrol employment. The application form can be accessed through links on OPM, Border Patrol, and private web sites. Interested applicants who meet the qualifications comprise the pool of eligible candidates. OPM compiles the information from TAPS and the internet and, through local OPM offices, schedules eligible candidates for the first phase of the applicant hiring process -- the written test. After applicants take the written test, OPM determines the test results and provides INS with a list of candidates who passed the test.
To streamline and expedite the hiring process, the Center schedules applicants for oral examinations, drug tests, medical examinations, and security screening. In 1995, INS's Administrative Centers and Border Patrol sectors were both involved in handling these functions. As a result, some time was lost because of poor coordination or the lack of personnel to accomplish the tasks. According to all personnel interviewed, the Center has made the hiring process more efficient and effective. Typically it took six months to one year to hire a Border Patrol agent under INS's former hiring process. According to INS, applicants now move through the hiring process in four to five months if no issues complicate the applicant's medical examination or background investigation.
When eligible candidates successfully complete all steps of the hiring process, the Center provides them with appointment letters. The letters include the starting date for candidates to report to the Border Patrol Academy and the name of the Border Patrol sector and station where they will be assigned upon completion of the Academy. In the past, candidates had no choice in selecting the location of their first duty assignment and would be dropped from employment consideration if they did not accept the assignment.
To keep potential candidates interested in employment, the Center is currently trying new approaches. If candidates refuse a location assignment, the Center offers them another one. If candidates refuse the second location assignment, the Center may offer them a third with the stipulation that this third location assignment would have to be taken or the candidates would then be dropped from consideration. Because many candidates were taking advantage of this new approach, the Center is currently experimenting with asking potential candidates where they would like to be assigned after they pass the written test. Candidates are asked to choose one of four geographic preferences (California, Arizona/New Mexico, West Texas, or South Texas) where they would like to be assigned, and the Center then tries to accommodate the candidates. While this process helps to maintain a list of prospective students for the Border Patrol Academy, additional work is required of Center staff to coordinate the placement and timing of training of these people.
Using the Border Patrol Headquarters allocations of additional agents as a basis, classes are designed to have as many students in them as possible that will be assigned to the same sector. The Border Patrol believes this helps to build esprit de corps and develop camaraderie among the new agents. When possible the Academy will try to have some of the detailed instructors assigned to any given class from the field location where the majority of that class is destined.
Because INS realizes it can lose potential applicants when the hiring process is delayed, it continues to try to reduce the length of time applicants spend in the hiring process. INS is now using "compressed hiring" at selected locations. In 1995, INS was periodically using "expedited hiring." While expedited hiring reduced the time to bring someone on board, it was expensive and, after further assessment, it did not meet its other two objectives -- reducing the number of no-shows at each stage of the hiring process and increasing the recruitment of women and minorities. As a result, the expedited hiring process was terminated in May 1999.
INS has established compressed hiring locations throughout the country where applicants report to obtain information and file an application. INS has streamlined the process in the areas of scheduling and grading the tests and scheduling the additional phases. INS began with six compressed hiring sites, and, at the time of our review, established two more sites. Because of the success of the program INS will have an additional two sites operational by the end of the FY. These locations schedule the test (which is scored either on site or within a few weeks) through OPM, and make arrangements for the oral examination for those applicants who pass the written test. After applicants pass the oral boards, the Center makes arrangements for the remaining three phases -- drug testing, medical examination, and security screening. INS hopes that the compressed hiring process will reduce participating applicants' hiring time to three to four months in cases where no issues complicate the applicant's medical examination or background investigation.
INS has been gradually modifying the written test for potential applicants (e.g., increasing the number of math and vocabulary questions). Border Patrol agents we interviewed expressed concern that the test is "weeding out" potentially good candidates (mostly military and police) who had traditionally been recruited for the Border Patrol. Many of these agents interviewed believe the test may be geared too much to college graduates. In order to provide feedback on these concerns to Headquarters, some field sites had senior agents take the test and many failed. The following chart provides statistics on the numbers of candidates who applied for, took, and passed the test over the last four years.
|Fiscal Year||Applied||Took||Passed||% Passed|
|Source: INS Human Resources|
The Border Patrol did not want the test to eliminate good candidates who could potentially pass the Academy but marginally failed the hiring test. As a result, INS modified the way it scores the test. Failing any of the three sections (reasoning, language, and suitability) of the test formerly disqualified a candidate. Most candidates who failed the test failed the language and/or reasoning sections. Beginning in January 2000, INS combined the scores from the language and reasoning sections of the test to arrive at an overall score for these sections. The Border Patrol believes that individuals who marginally fail either the language or reasoning sections of the test can still pass the Academy and succeed as a Border Patrol agent. According to INS Human Resources personnel, the change has resulted in an increased average passing rate of 38-40 percent.
In June 2000, the test will be further changed. The change will be the result of a large-scale validation study involving over 1,000 Border Patrol agents and their supervisors. In this study, INS will validate different assessment instruments and determine which one allows it to best screen out individuals who cannot pass the Border Patrol Academy or will not do well on the job. The study may indicate that a test of the strength of an applicant's background, including experiences and achievements, or a test of personal characteristics, such as honesty, conscientiousness, and dependability, should be added to the test.
During the course of our interviews, Border Patrol agents expressed a concern that Border Patrol information available to potential recruits, especially on the internet, does not accurately reflect the type of job Border Patrol agents are performing in some locations. A significant part of an agent's duties may include working a "deterrent" position that is limited to guarding a specific section of border to ensure no illegal alien enters at that point. Recruiting videos and posters typically reflect Border Patrol agents doing a wider variety of tasks, such as using horses, boats, and all-terrain vehicles to catch aliens who have illegally entered the United States.
We viewed the official Border Patrol internet web site and found it contained limited job description information on the current duties of Border Patrol agents. For example it makes no mention of the deterrent position and does not expressly describe life on the Southwest Border. Unofficial web sites about the Border Patrol provided a better description on the current duties of a Border Patrol agent. However, these informal web sites did not always reflect the formal position of the Border Patrol on duties and responsibilities of its agents and some negatively portrayed deterrent positions.
While INS cannot control unofficial internet information about the Border Patrol, it needs to expand the information that is available on its official internet web site to more thoroughly describe the current duties and responsibilities of Border Patrol agents.
In 1995, the Border Patrol Academy facilities at Glynco and Artesia did not have the capacity to meet training goals. INS needed to find, select, and open another training location to augment the training that was being conducted at these two training sites. In FY 1996, INS selected Charleston as the third training site, but not in time to meet the training goals for that year. With the addition of Charleston as a temporary Border Patrol basic training facility, INS now has the capacity to train sufficient numbers of Border Patrol agents to meet congressionally mandated hiring goals provided hiring efforts are evenly dispersed throughout the year. The Border Patrol still relies on instructors temporarily detailed from the field to augment the staff of instructors needed at the Academy. New supervisors are now receiving their required training within the first year of assuming their supervisory roles.
Glynco and Charleston now have the capacity to train the new hires to meet INS's hiring goals as long as hiring efforts are dispersed evenly throughout the year. The Academy schedules classes to begin at regular intervals throughout a fiscal year to achieve the overall training goals of that year. However, hiring a majority of the new agents during the last quarter of the fiscal year strains the capacity of the Academy and the training sites and makes it impossible to achieve the training goals.
Glynco and Charleston initially made plans to schedule classes for and train about 2,900 Border Patrol agents in FY 2000. This number took into consideration failures at the Academy, attrition in the field, and FY 1999 hiring shortfalls. However, at the time of our review, the number had dropped to 1,800 because of insufficient numbers of new hires. The following chart shows statistics on individuals who did not graduate from the Border Patrol Academy.
|Fiscal Year||Began Training||Did Not Graduate|
|Source: INS and Border Patrol Academy|
Even though Charleston is considered a temporary training location, the future of this facility is still uncertain and INS cannot provide a firm date when or if it can close this site and move all Border Patrol basic training to Glynco. While extensive construction projects to increase student capacity are ongoing at Glynco, the additional capacity is available to all law enforcement agencies and not limited to INS training. Artesia, no longer used as a basic training location for Border Patrol agents, conducts advanced Border Patrol training courses.
Historically, the Border Patrol Academy has detailed agents from the field to augment the permanent teaching staff as a means to bring "field experience" to the Academy. Detailing agents to the Academy also helps during the peak training periods when classes overlap. In FY 1994, prior to INS's rapid growth of new agents, 42 detailed agents were used to augment the permanent staff of 33. In FY 1995, the first year of INS's rapid growth, 183 detailed agents augmented the permanent staff of 40; in FY 1998, 267 detailed agents were used in addition to the permanent staff of 80; and in FY 1999, 149 detailed agents helped the permanent staff of 77. As in 1996, the Academy still relies heavily on detailed agents to augment the instructor workforce. While the Border Patrol recognizes the benefit to using detailed instructors at the Academy, it needs to be alert to ensure that the ratio of experienced to new agents in the field is not adversely affected by this practice.
Bifurcation of Training
Through interviews, we attempted to determine whether the training was consistent at the two different locations. Based on our interviews with Border Patrol Academy instructors, Border Patrol supervisors, and experienced and new Border Patrol agents, we were told both academies use the same course material, teach the same courses, and give the same tests. Therefore, we concluded that the training offered at the two academies is consistent. Any described differences are based more on student perceptions of locations rather than on formal instruction. For example, students at Glynco believed the presence of other law enforcement agencies broadened their overall perspective of government law enforcement. On the other hand, students at Charleston believed their training to be more difficult because only training for Border Patrol agents was conducted at this site and instructors could run the site in a more military fashion during non-class times.
The Academy periodically modifies the Spanish program to address the needs of agents in the field. Agents provide input on these needs through validation surveys conducted every five years by the Academy's Research and Evaluation Section. The Spanish program currently relies heavily on conversational skills rather than grammar construction because agents do not have to use writing skills in the performance of their duties as often as conversational skills.
Border Patrol supervisors and field training officers believe that the Spanish now being taught at the Academy did not adversely affect the performance or safety of Border Patrol agents accomplishing their duties in the field. Agents said the Spanish they were taught allowed them to communicate effectively with the people they contacted. In addition, the new agents were passing their post academy Spanish tests at the same rate as agents who took the tests when the Academy taught Spanish emphasizing grammar. They did add, however, that the post academy tests were modified to reflect the change in how the Academy was teaching Spanish.
In FY 1995, INS had to suspend supervisory training at Artesia for a year to make facilities and staff available for Border Patrol basic training. As a result, there was a backlog of new supervisors who needed training. In March 1996, supervisory training was transferred from Artesia to Dallas, Texas, when INS opened its Leadership Development Center.
Since 1996, the Leadership Development Center has been providing supervisory, management, and leadership training for all INS employees. According to Border Patrol officials, all new supervisory Border Patrol agents are now receiving supervisory training within their first year as a supervisor. While Border Patrol officials endorsed the Leadership Development Center training, Headquarters Border Patrol, in conjunction with field personnel, developed a new basic supervisory course for Supervisory Border Patrol Agents (SBPAs). This was in response to a recognized need to provide more Border Patrol specific training for first line supervisors who because of the agent staffing increases were supervising larger numbers of inexperienced agents.
A study conducted in 1997, the "Taxonomy of Technical Competencies for First-Line Supervisors", identified 21 technical competencies (required job skills) that became the foundation of the new course. In February 1998, Border Patrol Agents representing all regions and various supervisory positions met in Washington, DC, and began to develop a new SBPA basic training program. This project team had been nominated from an advisory board of over 50 SBPAs who had convened in October 1997 during the Field Conference on SBPA training.
The first 8-day SBPA Technical Training Course was held in October 1999, and monthly classes are scheduled in Dallas in conjunction with the Leadership Development Center basic supervisory course. Border Patrol personnel manage the SBPA course and trained SBPA instructors along with other subject matter experts teach the course. The course will also be offered to supervisors who attended the Leadership Development Center Basic Supervision course prior to the implementation of this new course.
IDENT and Enforce Training
The Border Patrol Academy provides a brief familiarization section to new agents on the IDENT and Enforce computer systems. Because of the nature of these systems, it is believed to be more effective to provide hands-on instruction to new agents when they arrive at their duty stations. At that time, field training officers and experienced agents give on-the-job training on the IDENT and Enforce systems by having new agents process apprehended aliens. Based on our interviews with field training officers, supervisors, and new agents in the field, the hands-on training at field sites is effective. New agents we interviewed reported that they are receiving this training. However, the scope of this review was limited to an overview of the initial IDENT/Enforce training provided to new agents with respect to basic processing procedures. The Office of the Inspector General March 2000 report entitled The Rafeal Resendez-Ramirez Case: A Review of the INS's Actions and the Operation of Its IDENT Automated Fingerprint Identification System consisted of a more in-depth review of the IDENT training. This report found gaps in agents' knowledge and problems with training on and use of the IDENT lookout system and use of the system for intelligence purposes. The report is obtainable from the OIG website (http://www.usdoj.gov/oig).
Even though INS is not meeting it's hiring goals, the large number of new Border Patrol agents that are deployed place greater strains on staff to supervisor ratios, facilities, vehicles, and equipment. Border Patrol sector chiefs do not have enough advance information as to how many new agents their respective sectors will receive or when these agents will arrive, making operational planning difficult. The lack of support personnel remains a significant problem.
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 annually and when they will arrive. Border Patrol supervisors at all of the stations we visited commented that they had little or no knowledge of any staffing increases beyond the recruits at the Academy that were already destined for their location. Additional advance notification is necessary for sectors to adequately plan for necessary supervisors, support personnel, and equipment, which can become a lengthy process. These supervisors also said that even when they receive advance notice of staff increases, they may never get the increases because agents can be diverted, funds may not be available, and hiring goals may not be achieved.
The Border Patrol is unable to accurately provide INS headquarters facilities personnel with firm projected staffing plans for Border Patrol sectors and stations far enough in advance to keep pace with the arrival of new agents. Even though INS is not meeting the hiring goals, the Border Patrol's strategic plan dictates that most of the new agents are concentrated at a few sectors and stations. As a result, these stations are not equipped to handle the large influx of arriving agents and eight of the eleven stations we visited are overcrowded. For example, one station originally built for 60 agents must now 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. This station also was expecting an additional 80 new agents from the Academy in June 2000.
INS headquarters facilities personnel said that no new Border Patrol construction projects were allocated for FY 2000. Any FY 2000 monies for construction were used to finish projects already under way. Therefore, without additional funding for new construction projects, INS will always be "catching up" to keep pace with the influx of new agents. We did, however, see some improvement in planning. For those construction projects already under way, the facilities were being built for the projected number of new agents necessary to gain control of that segment of the border instead of building them for the existing workforce.
Border Patrol officials told us that they would be in a better position, by the end of FY 2000, to provide facilities personnel with projected plans for future staffing. According to Border Patrol personnel, this projection is possible because of computer models that help in determining staffing needs, patterns in illegal entry from sensor and camera equipment already in place along the border, better intelligence gathering, and patterns of alien movement based on past successes of controlling illegal aliens along the border. Based on historical experience this statement seems optimistic, but we did not evaluate this premise. Border Patrol officials also said, however, that the problem of accurately projecting staffing needs for specific locations was more difficult because of delays in getting sections of the border under control, miscalculating the rapid diversion of illegal alien flows, and the need to respond to the direction of Congress as to where new agents are placed.
As we reported in 1995, maintenance and replacement of older vehicles was a significant problem. While sectors receive two new vehicles for every three new agents, older vehicles are still not being replaced timely. An INS headquarters planning official said INS planned for approximately four percent of the vehicle fleet to be replaced in FY 2000. This is far too long a replacement cycle for any vehicle, especially a Border Patrol vehicle that is subjected to high mileage each year and used on very rough terrain. Subsequent to the plan, INS's fleet manager informed us that actual funds available in FY 2000 would allow for replacement of only three percent of the Border Patrol's vehicle fleet.
As these vehicles become older, the cost and time associated with repairing them becomes more burdensome. Older vehicles waiting for repair impact on the newer vehicle fleet as the newer vehicles are used more often. Agents arriving on duty in some areas wait for agents in the field to return with vehicles that they then use.
One recent improvement that was described to us involved INS's effort to put new vehicles into service more quickly. New vehicles must be retrofitted with law enforcement equipment, such as light bars and security screens. Prior to FY 1999, each sector was responsible for retrofitting its vehicles when they arrived from the manufacturer. Now, INS has a contract with the Federal prison in Bastrop, Texas, whereby all Border Patrol vehicles are retrofitted at the prison facility before being shipped to the sectors. Bastrop can adjust production time so that the shipment of vehicles to the sectors coincides with the arrival of new agents.
According to INS's fleet manager and Border Patrol field officials, Bastrop has been a huge success and the contract is being expanded. Bastrop will begin to dispose of old vehicles that the sectors can no longer use. When car carriers bring sectors a shipment of new vehicles, old vehicles will be taken back to Bastrop where they will be stripped of their retrofitting equipment, repaired (if possible), and resold. Retrofitting equipment can then be reused. If vehicles cannot be repaired and resold, the vehicles will be shipped to another prison facility where they will be disassembled and the usable parts will be stored. Sectors can then request used parts from this facility, a potential cost savings to the Border Patrol.
Since our review in 1995, INS has made a significant improvement in providing personal equipment for Border Patrol agents. Agents are now adequately equipped with personal items, such as handguns, batons, body armor, radios, binoculars, and night vision goggles. INS also has made some improvements in equipping stations with sensors, cameras, and infrared scopes, but the stations we visited informed us that they still need more of these items. During our visits, we observed some locations with sufficient station equipment, but some of the station equipment at those locations was borrowed from other locations. Overall, the Border Patrol is still in need of station equipment on the Southwest Border as well as on the Northern Border, as noted in our report Border Patrol Efforts Along the Northern Border, I-2000-04, February 2000.
While sensors, cameras, and scopes are costly, they provide a force multiplying effect (i.e., this type of equipment can often perform the work of several agents). Therefore, fewer agents are needed to accomplish a specified task. For example, a supervisory Border Patrol agent in one location we visited said, "One good agent with a scope can do the work of eight agents."
While some support positions in the sectors have been filled since 1995, not enough of these positions have been filled to adequately support the current level of agent staffing, let alone the additional staffing increases that are planned. Filling support positions is an INS service-wide problem and it can take up to a year to fill one of these positions. In our 1995 report, we commented on how the shortage of support personnel was becoming more critical with the influx of new agents. Support positions needed in 1995 included electronics technicians, secretaries and administrative staff, mechanics, detention officers, and attorneys.
Since 1995, the number of agents has increased, but many of these agents, out of necessity and not desire, must still perform duties that should be done by support personnel. In all of the eleven stations we visited, Border Patrol agents are routinely used as mechanics, fleet managers, clerks, radio operators, detention officers, and fence/sensor repairmen. Some sectors are still receiving assistance from the National Guard for support services, including repairing fences and operating heavy equipment. However, the National Guard cannot always meet Border Patrol requests due to its own monetary constraints.
Because the Border Patrol is not capturing all the time Border Patrol agents spend performing support functions, it cannot adequately assess the need for additional support positions. Some Border Patrol officials said they were reluctant to have agents officially record the time spent on support functions because supervisors could be criticized for having agents perform these duties as well as possibly jeopardizing agents' administratively uncontrollable overtime. Border Patrol needs to find a way to assess time spent by agents performing support-related duties to justify future budget requests.
In 1995, we found the ratio of seven agents to one supervisor (7:1 ratio) was not achieved at some locations we visited, and was as high as 18:1 in one station. Currently, Border Patrol officials said that it is close to achieving this 7:1 ratio at all locations. The Border Patrol believes the 7:1 ratio is necessary because of the nature of law enforcement work: Border Patrol agents carry firearms, make arrests, and make life and death decisions. In addition, Border Patrol agents work in the field, not offices. Supervisors cannot supervise large numbers of agents because of the distances needed to interact with them. However, as the Border Patrol continues to receive and place large numbers of new agents, it projects that staff to supervisor ratios will again exceed the 7:1 ratio in some locations.
Field Training Officer Program
New recruits are required to undergo post academy training after arriving at their duty locations. The Field Training Officer Program, established within the last year, is a structured curriculum that designated training officers use in a recruit's development during the first two months. By following a structured outline of topics and areas, each new recruit is taught what is needed to safely and effectively perform the tasks required of a Border Patrol agent. Supervisors, field training officers, and new recruits in the two sectors we visited commended the Field Training Officer Program.
Prior to establishing the program, new recruits relied on the journeymen agents to whom they were assigned to provide the guidance and skills needed for the job. This type of training was not consistent and therefore dependent on what the journeymen chose to cover.
Focus of Border Patrol Mission
While the primary mission of the Border Patrol has not changed over the years, the focus of some sectors has shifted, resulting in agents spending considerable time in deterrent positions. These assignments usually consist of agents patrolling specific, limited sections directly on the border to prevent any illegal entry in their areas. Prior to 1995 and the establishment of the new Border Patrol Strategy, the Border Patrol did not have sufficient resources to limit a Border Patrol agent's activity to only a small deterrent position directly along the border. Agents had to be available to pursue illegal aliens after entry and to watch over other areas for which the Border Patrol was responsible.
According to INS, the deterrent positions are effective in gaining control of the border, but some agents become frustrated when their duties are limited to deterrent positions because they are not performing the varied types of work for which they spent numerous hours training. As a result, these agents might seek employment outside the Border Patrol.
The Border Patrol needs to communicate more effectively the importance and role of deterrence in its overall enforcement philosophy, show how this philosophy is working effectively, and ensure some rotation of agents on deterrent positions wherever possible. A headquarters Border Patrol official said that the best way to initially convey the shift in focus to deterrence is at the Academy. However, there also is a need to convey this shift in focus throughout the entire Border Patrol staff, including senior and supervisory Border Patrol agents.
The attrition rate for Border Patrol agents has fluctuated over the past few years (as used in this report attrition is the voluntary and involuntary separations from the Border Patrol). Attrition rates rose from 8 percent in FY 1995 to 13 percent in FY 1998, and fell to 9 percent in FY 1999. The chart below shows the Attrition of Border Patrol Agents.
|Fiscal Year (FY)||Agents Onboard
at Start of FY
|Source: INS Human Resources|
One consistent reason for leaving the Border Patrol, according to Border Patrol agents we interviewed, was the low journeyman grade for Border Patrol agents. INS has been working on upgrading the journeyman position of Border Patrol agents to a GS-11 and has requested funds from Congress to cover the additional salary expense. At the time of our review, no funds were made available in INS's FY 2000 budget to cover the upgrade, but INS was requesting funds again in its FY 2001 budget. Our 1995 report pointed out that the Border Patrol was losing some experienced nonsupervisory agents due to the Border Patrol's limited promotion opportunities. Agents can advance to the GS-9 level, but advancement beyond that is slower and uncertain.
The general inability for Border Patrol agents to move from the locations where they are assigned is another factor in attrition. Many locations border on being a hardship location because they are in remote areas and adequate housing, shopping, and schools are not available. In addition, many agents would like to return to locations where they grew up or have family ties. Usually, the only way Border Patrol agents can move from their assigned duty locations is to apply for a promotion at another location. However, these promotion opportunities tend to be very limited, and INS does not have the funds to periodically transfer agents from one location to another.
Recently, INS instituted a pilot program in seven cities and four Border Patrol sectors whereby selected employees could voluntarily trade locations with a peer from one of the other locations. The pilot program is limited to selected Border Patrol sectors and employees because INS is bound by a negotiated Border Patrol union agreement that prevents it from offering the program to all agents. All expenses of the transfer would be the responsibility of the transferring employees. At the selected Border Patrol sectors, the pilot program is only available to supervisory agents because the Border Patrol union collective bargaining agreement stipulates that the expenses for any move of covered bargaining unit employees must be paid by INS.
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