Information on Immigration Enforcement and Supervisory Promotions in the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection
GAO-06-751R: Published: Jun 13, 2006. Publicly Released: Jun 13, 2006.
After the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in March 2003, two legacy enforcement agencies--the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the U.S. Customs Service (USCS)--were among the 22 federal agencies brought together within DHS. This transformation in turn merged the legacy INS and USCS investigators into the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Investigations (OI), and legacy INS and USCS inspectors, among others, into Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It has been nearly 3 years since the merger and efforts to integrate thousands of federal employees within ICE and CBP continue. Congress raised questions about ongoing human capital challenges brought about by the integration of legacy enforcement employees within ICE and CBP. In prior work, we have reported on the management and human capital challenges DHS faces as it merges the workforces of legacy agencies, including the need to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the new agencies, the difficulty of legacy staff operating from separate locations, and how it decides to allocate investigative resources. This report addresses the following objectives: (1) How many investigative work years were dedicated to immigration enforcement activities for fiscal years 1999 through 2005? (2) What factors does ICE use as the basis for allocating its investigative resources? (3) What assessments do ICE and CBP use as a basis for making decisions on supervisory promotions? (4) Have ICE and CBP supervisory promotions been distributed between legacy INS and USCS staff in proportion to the supervisory staff each legacy agency brought to ICE and CBP?
Investigative work years for immigration enforcement were generally declining under INS, but have increased since ICE was formed in 2003. Specifically, investigative work years for immigration enforcement under INS decreased by about 14 percent from fiscal years 1999 through 2002, and increased in fiscal year 2003. From fiscal year 1999 through fiscal year 2001, INS was having difficulty recruiting and retaining staff and INS experienced about an 8 to 9 percent annual attrition in investigative staff, which in part explains the decrease in work years during the 1999 through 2002 period. The number of investigative work years spent on immigration enforcement investigations rose by 2 percent in fiscal year 2004 and by 16 percent in fiscal year 2005. ICE uses a combination of factors to allocate its investigative resources, including whether an investigation indicates a potential threat to national security, the execution of special programs run out of headquarters divisions and units like Operation Community Shield, which targets violent street gang members, and carry-over legacy activities, such as support for implementation of the national drug control strategy. About half of ICE investigative resources were used for drug, financial (the criminal or civil violation of financial laws enforced by ICE, such as money laundering), and general alien (the varied criminal and administrative cases where the subject's alienage is a requirement of the offense) investigations in fiscal years 2004 and 2005. ICE and CBP supervisory promotion decisions are based on weighted assessments measuring supervisory skills as well as knowledge of investigative and inspectional procedures and laws. Assessments common to ICE and CBP that do not require specialized legacy agency knowledge and are evaluated through testing are Critical Thinking (logic and problem solving), Managerial Writing (written communication), and an In-basket Job Simulation (ability to prioritize and manage). The Job Knowledge Test in ICE measures knowledge of customs and immigration laws and general investigative procedures across the range of ICE investigative activities and is divided into equally weighted sections testing knowledge of smuggling and public safety, financial investigations, investigative services, national security investigations, and general criminal investigations techniques. CBP's Career Experience Inventory measures knowledge of customs and immigration laws and inspectional procedures as well as experience performing supervisory and management functions. We did not verify these assessments or test how well they measure the knowledge and skills they address. For one promotion cycle in ICE, legacy INS staff received about two-thirds of the total supervisory promotions to GS grades 14 and 15. In fiscal year 2004, ICE noncompetitively promoted more than 200 legacy INS GS-13 supervisors to GS-14 to bring about parity with legacy USCS supervisory investigators who were at the GS-14 grade level. Promotions were more proportional to existing on board distributions of legacy supervisory personnel in fiscal year 2005, that is, legacy INS supervisors constituted 34 percent of the GS-14 and -15 supervisors and received 36 percent of the promotions that year. At CBP, the distribution of GS-12 to -15 supervisory promotions for fiscal years 2004 through 2006 was generally proportional to the distribution of legacy staff in those positions at the start of each fiscal year. For example, in fiscal year 2004, legacy INS staff constituted 34 percent of the on board supervisors and received 30 percent of the promotions, while legacy USCS staff constituted 66 percent of the on board supervisors and received 70 percent of the promotions.