Homeland Security paid for polygraph exams for more than 2,300 potential hires at Customs and Border Protection, even though they had already admitted to drug use or criminal behavior that would have disqualified them anyway, the department’s inspector general said in a new report this week.
The polygraphs cost $2,200 a pop, meaning the department blew more than $5 million on tests that were irrelevant even before they began, investigators said.
CBP, which oversees Border Patrol agents and the officers who operate the official ports of entry, has been struggling to hire agents, with its stringent requirements weeding most applicants out. President Trump’s call for an additional 5,000 agents to be added to the force has only complicated matters.
“Given its plans to hire 5,000 additional Border Patrol Agents, it is important that CBP focus its resources on the most qualified and suitable applicants,” said Inspector General John Roth.
The waste of money and time on applicants who have no chance of serving is likely to inflame concerns on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are questioning whether the Border Patrol needs — or can properly hire — that many new agents.
In a report last month the inspector general said CBP has yet to justify that surge in staffing. Auditors said given the hiring difficulties, it would take an estimated 750,000 applications to fill the 5,000 positions.
Applicants for law enforcement positions at CBP are required submit a number of forms and do a polygraph, which involves a pre-exam interview, then the actual exam, and then a post-exam interview to go over the results.
But nearly one in five applicants willingly admits in the first interview to criminal behavior or drug use that makes them ineligible. The problem was that CBP didn’t always terminate their applications, and some 2,300 of them went on to have polygraphs anyway — though there was no way they could be hired.
The list of disqualifying admissions was stunning. Some applicants admitted to drug smuggling or human trafficking.
CBP, in its official reply to the report, agreed with the findings and said it’s already taken steps. As of June 12, a new process was in place to have polygraph examiners check any potentially disqualifying pre-exam interview information with adjudicators to make sure the candidate is still viable before going ahead with the polygraph.
“Since the new policy was issued, CBP is not aware of any policy violations that have occurred,” Sean M. Mildrew, the senior component accountability official at CBP, said in reply.
The polygraph has become a controversial part of the CBP hiring process.
In order to speed up the process of getting new Border Patrol agents into the field, some lawmakers have proposed eliminating the need for a polygraph exam for active-duty law enforcement or military troops who already have security clearances.
A bill with some of those changes cleared the House earlier this year, though opponents — including immigrant-rights groups — say they fear a streamlined process will fail to weed out potential bad agents.
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