JANUARY 04, 2012
More than a decade after the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history, federal agents in charge of protecting the nation’s ports of entry are not qualified to perform their required duties and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) fails to keep track of officer proficiency.
If this wasn’t documented in a federal probe, it would likely seem too unbelievable to swallow. Incredibly, it’s true and the alarming details are outlined in a report issued recently by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress. It essentially says that the agency (Customs and Border Protection or CBP) created after 9/11 to interdict terrorists, criminals and inadmissible travelers at airports, seaports and border crossings, is failing miserably to get the job done.
Why? Because it’s not properly training officers, despite annual funding of nearly $10 million and a generous workforce of 20,000 agents. After the 2001 attacks, three separate agencies—U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Customs Service and the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service—were merged to form CBP. The idea was to create one powerful agency to serve on the front lines.
However, the GAO seems to indicate that this crucial agency is in disarray, with no “reliable training completion records to ensure CBP officers received required training or other training relevant to their assigned duties.” In the course of their probe, investigators found that more than 4,000 CBP officers had not completed required training and that DHS didn’t even know who they were.
Specific details will never be fully disclosed because “sensitive information” is omitted from the report, but investigators offer some scary hints. For instance, “covert tests” conducted over a two-year span found “significant weaknesses in the CBP inspection process,” according to GAO investigators. In response to these tests, the agency developed a “Back to Basics” course last spring but no one really knows if agents even bothered enrolling.
This is of tremendous concern, investigators point out, because “recent incidents involving potential terrorists attempting to enter the country highlight the need for a vigilant and well-trained workforce at the border.” CBP plays a central role in carrying out this responsibility, but unfortunately doesn’t meet the criteria. Apparently this is nothing new, since the GAO points out that these “vulnerabilities and inefficiencies” were first reported back in 2007.
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