Information on Training New Border Patrol Agents
GAO-07-540R, Mar 30, 2007
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The U.S. Border Patrol is responsible for patrolling 8,000 miles of the land and coastal borders of the United States to detect and prevent the illegal entry of aliens and contraband, including terrorists and weapons of mass destruction. Although the Border Patrol apprehends hundreds of thousands of people entering the country illegally each year, several hundreds of thousands more individuals successfully enter the country illegally and undetected each year. In May 2006, the President called for comprehensive immigration reform that included strengthening control of the country's borders by, among other things, adding 6,000 new agents to the Border Patrol by the end of December 2008. This would increase the total number of agents from 12,349 to 18,319, an unprecedented 48 percent increase over the next 2 years. The Border Patrol plans to add these new agents to the southwest border while transferring up to 1,000 experienced agents to the northern border. Concerned about the ability of the Border Patrol's basic training program to accommodate this significant increase in Border Patrol agent trainees, Congress requested that we provide information on the content, quality, and cost of the Border Patrol's basic training program for new agents. This report addresses the following questions: To what extent does the Border Patrol's basic training program for new border patrol agents exhibit the attributes of an effective training program and how has the training program changed since September 11, 2001? How much does it cost to train a new Border Patrol agent? How does the Border Patrol's basic training program and cost compare to those of other similar federal and nonfederal law enforcement basic training programs? What plans, if any, has the Border Patrol developed or considered to improve the efficiency of its basic training program?
The Border Patrol's basic training program exhibits attributes of an effective training program. GAO's training assessment guide suggests the kinds of documentation to look for that indicate that a training program has a particular attribute in place, such as incorporating measures of effectiveness into its course designs. The Border Patrol had documentation that its training program had at least 1 key indicator in place for 31 of the 32 attributes of an effective training program. While we determined the presence of indicators of particular attributes, we did not assess the extent to which these attributes contributed to the quality of the training program. In addition, the Border Patrol is pursuing accreditation of its training program from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Accreditation organization. Our analysis of Border Patrol data showed that as of October 2006, the overall agent-to-supervisor ratios for southwest sectors, where the Border Patrol assigns all new agents, ranged from about 7 to 1 up to 11 to 1. However, given the large numbers of new agents the Border Patrol plans to assign to the southwest border over the next 2 years, along with the planned reassignment of experienced agents from the southwest border to the northern border, it will be a challenge for the agency to achieve the desired 5-to-1 ratio for new agents in all work units in those sectors receiving the largest numbers of new agents. In fiscal year 2006, the average cost to train a new Border Patrol agent at the academy was about $14,700. This cost represents the amounts expended by both the Border Patrol and FLETC. The Border Patrol paid about $6,600 for the trainee's meals and lodging, and a portion of the cost of instructors, and FLETC paid about $8,100 for tuition, a portion of the cost of instructors, and miscellaneous expenses such as support services, supplies, and utilities. The $14,700 cost figure does not include the costs associated with instructors conducting postacademy and field training in the sectors. Given the Border Patrol's unique mission and difficulties making direct comparisons with other federal and nonfederal law enforcement training programs, it appears that the Border Patrol's average cost per trainee at the academy is consistent with that of training programs that cover similar subjects and prepare officers for operations in similar geographic areas. However, differences in the emphasis of some subject areas over others dictated by jurisdiction and mission make a direct comparison difficult. Similarly, the Border Patrol does not provide instruction in investigation techniques while BIA, Arizona, and Texas require 139, 50, and 165 hours of such instruction, respectively. The Border Patrol is considering several alternatives to improve the efficiency of basic training delivery and to return agents to the sectors more quickly. According to Border Patrol officials, this could benefit about half of all trainees, because about half of all recruits already speak Spanish. The Border Patrol also plans to convert postacademy classroom training to computer-based training, allowing agents to complete the 1-day-a-week training at their duty stations rather than having to travel to the sector headquarters for this training. As a result, fewer senior agents will be required to serve as instructors for postacademy training. Finally, the Border Patrol is considering what other training it can shift from the academy to postacademy and field training conducted in the sectors, which could further reduce the amount of time trainees spend at the academy.