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CBP Wastes Millions Polygraphing Unqualified Applicants

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Sylvia Longmire IHSBy Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security

It’s one thing to carefully scrutinize job applicants who will potentially be engaging in dangerous and highly sensitive activities if hired. It’s another thing to waste money, time, and resources on 20 percent of those applicants when you should have realized they were already unqualified. According to a report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), that’s exactly what Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did over the course of four years with approximately 2,300 applicants.

CBP Screening Process

The screening process for law enforcement positions within CBP—which include Border Patrol agent jobs—is long and arduous. According to the agency website, all applicants must first successfully pass a background check. Law enforcement position applicants must also pass a pre-employment medical examination and a drug test. The site specifically says, “If your background includes past or present arrests, convictions, dismissals from previous jobs, outstanding debt and financial issues, excessive use of alcohol, violations of immigration laws, use of illegal drugs, and/or the sale and distribution of illegal drugs, you most probably will be rated unsuitable for these positions.”

Polygraph Testing

A report in Fedweek explained that CBP uses polygraph testing in its screening process for law enforcement positions, and spent roughly $72.3 million from fiscal years 2013-2016 to test nearly 33,000 applicants. Per the OIG report, OIG auditors analyzed a statistical sample of 380 polygraph exams administered to applicants during this time period. Nearly 20 percent of that sample made disqualifying admissions during the pre-polygraph interview. “According to CBP’s own data, approximately 2,300 applicants made pre-polygraph admissions including illegal drug use, drug smuggling, human trafficking, and to having close personal relationships with people who commit such crimes,” said the report. “Despite these admissions, CBP administered the polygraph examinations, costing taxpayers $2,200 each, to all of those applicants.”

Trump’s Border Patrol Plan

In line with his plan to fortify the southwest border, President Donald Trump plans to hire 5,000 more Border Patrol agents and 10,000 more immigration officers. However, previous CBP hiring surges have not necessarily ended well. Between 2003 and 2009, both CBP and Border Patrol doubled in size, but not without security casualties. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, hiring standards were lowered, training at the Border Patrol Academy was truncated, and background checks were delayed or not performed at all during this time. Approximately 170 border law enforcement agents and officers have been arrested, indicted, or convicted in corruption cases since 2002. CBP officials later acknowledged the pressure to meet the hiring goals allowed less qualified candidates onto the force, and fueled in part a surge in the cases.

One Applicant Admitted Gang Rape

In response to the report, the CBP said in a statement to CNN that it “continues to strive for an effective hiring process to meet staffing demands.” But examples abound that call that statement into question. Per CNN, in one pre-polygraph interview, an applicant “admitted to participating in the gang rape of an intoxicated and unconscious woman,” according to the OIG report. “The examiner obtained a written statement in the pre-test yet continued with the exam for five hours after the admission.” CBP also took issue with some of the figures in the report, namely the 2,300 applicants. CBP says that at the time of the polygraph, it may not have enough information to disqualify a candidate. Inspector General John Roth told CNN, “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.”

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