Border Security:

Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen CBP Efforts to Mitigate Risk of Employee Corruption and Misconduct

GAO-13-59: Published: Dec 4, 2012. Publicly Released: Jan 3, 2013.

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What GAO Found

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data indicate that arrests of CBP employees for corruption-related activities since fiscal years 2005 account for less than 1 percent of CBP’s entire workforce per fiscal year. The majority of arrests of CBP employees were related to misconduct. There were 2,170 reported incidents of arrests for acts of misconduct such as domestic violence or driving under the influence from fiscal year 2005 through fiscal year 2012, and a total of 144 current or former CBP employees were arrested or indicted for corruption-related activities, such as the smuggling of aliens and drugs, of whom 125 have been convicted as of October 2012. Further, the majority of allegations against CBP employees since fiscal year 2006 occurred at locations along the southwest border. CBP officials have stated that they are concerned about the negative impact that these cases have on agencywide integrity.

CBP employs screening tools to mitigate the risk of employee corruption and misconduct for both applicants (e.g., background investigations and polygraph examinations) and incumbent CBP officers and Border Patrol agents (e.g., random drug tests and periodic reinvestigations). However, CBP’s Office of Internal Affairs (IA) does not have a mechanism to maintain and track data on which of its screening tools (e.g., background investigation or polygraph examination) provided the information used to determine which applicants were not suitable for hire. Maintaining and tracking such data is consistent with internal control standards and could better position CBP IA to gauge the relative effectiveness of its screening tools. CBP IA is also considering requiring periodic polygraphs for incumbent officers and agents; however, it has not yet fully assessed the feasibility of expanding the program. For example, CBP has not yet fully assessed the costs of implementing polygraph examinations on incumbent officers and agents, including costs for additional supervisors and adjudicators, or factors such as the trade-offs associated with testing incumbent officers and agents at various frequencies. A feasibility assessment of program expansion could better position CBP to determine whether and how to best achieve its goal of strengthening integrity-related controls for officers and agents. Further, CBP IA has not consistently conducted monthly quality assurance reviews of its adjudications since 2008, as required by internal policies, to help ensure that adjudicators are following procedures in evaluating the results of the preemployment and periodic background investigations. CBP IA officials stated that they have performed some of the required checks since 2008, but they could not provide data on how many checks were conducted. Without these quality assurance checks, it is difficult for CBP IA to determine the extent to which deficiencies, if any, exist in the adjudication process.

CBP does not have an integrity strategy, as called for in its Fiscal Year 2009-2014 Strategic Plan. During the course of our review, CBP IA began drafting a strategy, but CBP IA’s Assistant Commissioner stated the agency has not set target timelines for completing and implementing this strategy. Moreover, he stated that there has been significant cultural resistance among some CBP components in acknowledging CBP IA’s authority for overseeing all integrity-related activities. Setting target timelines is consistent with program management standards and could help CBP monitor progress made toward the development and implementation of an agencywide strategy.

Why GAO Did This Study

CBP—a component within the Department of Homeland Security— is responsible for securing U.S. borders and facilitating legal travel and trade. Drug-trafficking and other transnational criminal organizations are seeking to target CBP employees with bribes to facilitate the illicit transport of drugs, aliens, and other contraband across the southwest U.S. border, in particular. CBP IA is responsible for promoting the integrity of CBP’s workforce, programs, and operations; and CBP components implement integrity initiatives. GAO was asked to review CBP’s efforts to ensure the integrity of its workforce. This report examines (1) data on arrests of and allegations against CBP employees for corruption or misconduct, (2) CBP’s implementation of integrity-related controls, and (3) CBP’s strategy for its integrity programs. GAO analyzed arrest and allegation data since fiscal year 2005 and 2006, respectively, reviewed integrity-related policies and procedures, and interviewed CBP officials in headquarters and at four locations along the southwest border selected for geographic location, among other factors.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that CBP, among other things, track and maintain data on sources of information used to determine which applicants are unsuitable for hire, assess the feasibility of expanding the polygraph program to incumbent officers and agents, consistently conduct quality assurance reviews, and set timelines for completing and implementing a comprehensive integrity strategy. DHS concurred and reported taking steps to address the recommendations.

For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or gamblerr@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2012, we reported on U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) efforts to ensure the integrity of its workforce, including steps CBP had taken to mitigate the risk of employee corruption and misconduct by employing screening tools for both applicants (e.g., background investigations and polygraph examinations) and incumbent CBP officers and Border Patrol agents (e.g., random drug tests and periodic reinvestigations). We found, among other things, that CBP's Office of Internal Affairs (IA) did not have a mechanism to maintain and track data on which of its screening tools (e.g., background investigation or polygraph examination) provided the information used to determine which applicants were not suitable for hire. Maintaining and tracking such data is consistent with internal control standards and could better position CBP IA to gauge the relative effectiveness of its screening tools. We recommended that CBP IA develop a mechanism to maintain and track data on the sources of information (e.g., background investigation or polygraph examination admissions) that the Personnel Security Division within CBP IA uses to determine what applicants are not suitable for hire to help CBP IA assess the effectiveness of its applicant screening tools. In response to this recommendation, the Personnel Security Division (PSD) (1) began producing quarterly reports that specify which screening tool--the preliminary law enforcement checks, the polygraph examination, or the background investigation--helped CBP IA determine which applicants were not suitable for hire and (2) specified the frequency of use for each tool per quarter. In December 2014, CBP established a new standard operating procedure, which formalized the requirements for these quarterly reports. As a result of these actions, CBP IA will be better positioned to maintain and track data related to the sources of information that is used to determine what applicants are not suitable for hire and also assess the effectiveness of these applicant screening tools over time.

    Recommendation: To enhance CBP's efforts to mitigate the risk of corruption and misconduct among U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer (CBPOs) and U.S. Border Patrol agent (BPAs), the CBP commissioner should develop a mechanism to maintain and track data on the sources of information (e.g., background investigation or polygraph examination admissions) that CBP IA's Personnel Security Division (PSD) uses to determine what applicants are not suitable for hire to help CBP IA assess the effectiveness of its applicant screening tools.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2012, we reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had not fully assessed the costs and benefits of implementing polygraph examinations on incumbent officers and agents, as well as other factors that may affect the agency's efforts to expand the program. In May 2012, CBP's Acting Deputy Commissioner testified that the agency was considering whether and how to subject incumbent officers and agents to polygraph examinations. As a result, we recommended that the CBP commissioner assess the feasibility of expanding the polygraph program to incumbent CBP officers and Border Patrol agents, including the associated costs and benefits, options for how the agency would use the results of the examinations, and the trade-offs associated with testing incumbent officers and agents at various frequencies. On the basis of our review of CBP documentation, we found that CBP has taken steps to explore the feasibility of expanding the polygraph program, including assessing the integrity-related recommendations of the CBP Integrity Advisory Panel (IAP). Specifically, the IAP recommended that CBP expand its polygraph program to include post-employment polygraphs, as well as random and targeted polygraphs for incumbent CBP law enforcement personnel. According to CBP officials, as of April 2016, CBP determined that it does not plan to expand the program due to multiple factors, including: (1) staffing and cost limitations in expanding and hiring additional polygraph examiners; (2) lack of legislative authority to conduct post-employment polygraph examinations; (3) bargaining unit concerns regarding process and discipline rights; and (4) the inability to find a similarly situated federal law enforcement agency (a large-scale, competitive service, significant bargaining unit population) to benchmark for comparative analysis. Having assessed the costs and benefits of implementing polygraph examinations for incumbent officers and agents, we consider this recommendation closed and implemented.

    Recommendation: To enhance CBP's efforts to mitigate the risk of corruption and misconduct among CBPOs and BPAs, the CBP commissioner should assess the feasibility of expanding the polygraph program to incumbent CBPOs and BPAs, including the associated costs and benefits, options for how the agency will use the results of the examinations, and the trade-offs associated with testing incumbent officers and agents at various frequencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2012, we reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Office of Internal Affairs (IA), within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), had not implemented a quality assurance program at the level desired because it has prioritized its resources in recent years to address hiring goals and the mandated requirements to clear the backlog of reinvestigations. Specifically, CBP IA had established a quality assurance program in 2008 to help ensure that proper policies and procedures are followed during the course of the preemployment background investigations and incumbent employee reinvestigations. As part of this program, CBP's Personnel Security Division was to review, on a monthly basis, no more than 5 percent of all completed investigations to ensure the quality and timeliness of the investigations and to identify any deficiencies in the investigation process. We reported that, as of September 2012, CBP IA had performed some of the required checks since 2008; however, they could not provide data on how many checks were conducted or when the checks were conducted. Without a quality review program that is implemented on a consistent basis, it is difficult to determine the extent to which deficiencies, if any, exist in the investigation and adjudication process and whether individuals that are unsuitable for employment are attempting to find employment with CBP. Therefore, we recommended that CBP IA conduct quality assurance reviews of its adjudications of background investigations and periodic reinvestigations, as required in PSD's quality assurance program. In response, CBP IA developed a Quality Assurance Review program, which includes a sample review (target 5 percent of monthly adjudications) of all employment and security clearance adjudicative determinations. CBP IA established standard procedures for the program and, in March 2013, transferred responsibility for the quality assurance reviews to a different PSD office that is independent of the adjudication process to help avoid potential conflicts of interest. Based on our review of CBP IA documentation, these reviews have been completed on a monthly basis as required by the revised Quality Assurance Review program. By consistently implementing a quality assurance program for its background investigation and reinvestigation adjudication, CBP IA is better able to ensure that cases are being investigated and adjudicated properly and that corruption risk to the agency is mitigated accordingly.

    Recommendation: To enhance CBP's efforts to mitigate the risk of corruption and misconduct among CBPOs and BPAs, the CBP commissioner should conduct quality assurance reviews of CBP IA's adjudications of background investigations and periodic reinvestigations, as required in PSD's quality assurance program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2012, we reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Office of Internal Affairs (IA), within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), had not implemented a quality assurance program at the level desired because it has prioritized its resources in recent years to address hiring goals and the mandated requirements to clear the backlog of reinvestigations. Specifically, CBP IA had established a quality assurance program in 2008 to help ensure that proper policies and procedures are followed during the course of the preemployment background investigations and incumbent employee reinvestigations. As part of this program, CBP's Personnel Security Division (PSD) was to (1) review, on a monthly basis, no more than 5 percent of all completed investigations to ensure the quality and timeliness of the investigations and to identify any deficiencies in the investigation process, and (2) report the findings or deficiencies in a standardized checklist so that corrective action can be taken, if necessary. We reported that, as of September 2012, CBP IA had performed some of the required checks since 2008; however, they could not provide data on how many checks were conducted or when the checks were conducted because they did not retain the results of the checks on the required checklists. Without a quality review program that is documented on a consistent basis, it is difficult to determine the extent to which deficiencies, if any, exist in the investigation and adjudication process and whether individuals that are unsuitable for employment are attempting to find employment with CBP. Therefore, we recommended that CBP IA establish a process to fully document, as required, any deficiencies identified through PSD?s quality assurance reviews. In response to our recommendation, CBP IA developed and implemented a Quality Assurance Review Worksheet to be completed during the quality assurance review by the reviewer. CBP IA also developed a process to capture the results of the quality assurance review statistics and trend details regarding deficiencies noted in its investigative and adjudication processes. In March 2013, the Quality Assurance Review program was transferred to a separate office within PSD that is independent of the adjudication process. The reviewers have documented, on a monthly basis, deficiencies noted in the review process and maintained cumulative data on trends in their findings. By consistently documenting the results of its quality assurance program, CBP IA is better able to ensure that cases are being investigated and adjudicated properly and that corruption risk to the agency is mitigated accordingly.

    Recommendation: To enhance CBP's efforts to mitigate the risk of corruption and misconduct among CBPOs and BPAs, the CBP commissioner should establish a process to fully document, as required, any deficiencies identified through PSD's quality assurance reviews.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2012, we reported on U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) efforts to ensure the integrity of its workforce, including steps the Office of Field Operations (OFO) had taken to mitigate the risk of employee corruption. In 2009, OFO established the integrity officer position to monitor integrity-related controls, perform data analyses, and provide operational support to criminal and administrative investigations of OFO employees. We found, among other things, that OFO had not consistently coordinated the integrity officer program with CBP Office of Internal Affairs (CBP IA), the designated lead for all integrity-related matters within CBP. In addition, OFO's documentation on integrity officers' duties did not provide specific details about how they are to provide assistance to the investigative entities and we found differences in how the integrity officers interpreted OFO's guidance on their roles and responsibilities. Therefore, we recommended that the CBP Commissioner develop detailed guidance within OFO on the roles and responsibilities for integrity officers, in consultation with appropriate stakeholders such as CBP IA. In response, in March 2016, CBP issued a directive establishing a policy and assigning responsibilities for the integrity officer program, including specifying the roles and responsibilities of the integrity officers. Specifically, the directive designates the integrity officer as the subject matter expert on integrity-related issues within OFO and details specific integrity officer duties, reporting requirements, and liaison activities that the integrity officer may perform with other law enforcement stakeholders, such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and DHS's Office of Inspector General. By clarifying integrity officer roles and responsibilities, CBP is in a better position to prevent potential conflicts with ongoing integrity-related investigations, enable integrity officers to approach their duties more consistently and help ensure that the program is operating effectively.

    Recommendation: To enhance CBP's efforts to mitigate the risk of corruption and misconduct among CBPOs and BPAs, the CBP commissioner should develop detailed guidance within OFO on the roles and responsibilities for integrity officers, in consultation with appropriate stakeholders such as CBP IA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2012, we reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was in the process of drafting a comprehensive integrity strategy. However, as of September 2012, CBP had not developed timelines for completing and implementing the agencywide integrity strategy. As a result, we recommended that the CBP commissioner set target timelines for completing and implementing a comprehensive integrity strategy. In our interviews with CBP officials responsible for developing and implementing the strategy, we found that CBP took steps to complete and implement the strategy in accordance with internal timelines. In September 2014, CBP finalized and released its comprehensive strategy to all CBP employees. Therefore, we consider this recommendation closed and implemented.

    Recommendation: To enhance CBP's efforts to mitigate the risk of corruption and misconduct among CBPOs and BPAs, the CBP commissioner should set target timelines for completing and implementing a comprehensive integrity strategy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2007, U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Office of Field Operations (OFO)directed relevant managers to complete postcorruption analysis reports for each employee convicted for corruption. In 2011, CBP's U.S. Border Patrol began requiring that these reports be completed after the conviction of any Border Patrol employee for corruption. In 2012, we reported that, as of October 2012, OFO had completed about 66 percent of the total postcorruption analysis reports on OFO employees convicted since October 2004 (47 of 71 total convictions). In addition, we reported that Border Patrol had completed about 4 percent of postcorruption anlaysis reports on their employees convicted since October 2004 (2 of 45 total convictions). Therefore, we recommended that CBP complete the remaining postcorruption analysis reports for all officers and agents who had been convicted of corruption-related activities, to the extent that information was available. In response to GAO's recommendation, as of April 2015, CBP, with cooperation from OFO and Border Patrol, had completed all of the outstanding post-corruption analyses. Such analyses should help provide CBP with information to better identify corruption or misconduct risks to the workforce or modify existing policies, procedures, and controls to better detect or prevent possible corrupt activities on the part of OFO officers and Border Patrols agents.

    Recommendation: To enhance CBP's efforts to mitigate the risk of corruption and misconduct among CBPOs and BPAs, the CBP commissioner should complete Office of Field Operations (OFO) and U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) postcorruption analysis reports for all CBPOs and BPAs who have been convicted of corruption-related activities, to the extent that information is available.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

 

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