Filling 15,000 Border, Immigration Jobs? Plan Ahead, Agencies Told

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By Louis C. LaBrecque

More than 1.25 million people would need to apply for Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement jobs to meet President Donald Trump’s hiring goals, according to a government report.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection bureau would need 750,000 applicants to fill 5,000 Border Patrol positions, while ICE would need 501,750 applicants to fill 10,000 immigration officer jobs, the DHS Office of Inspector General said in a report released July 31. The OIG based those estimates on current hiring and attrition rates.

The inspector general recommended that the DHS engage in extensive workforce planning before it begins hiring. This will give the department a better idea of whether it needs the employees and, if so, how it should go about hiring them, the report said.

“Neither CBP nor ICE could provide complete data to support the operational need or deployment strategies for the additional 15,000 agents and officers they were directed to hire,” the report said. “Without well-defined operational needs and comprehensive deployment strategies, DHS may not be able to achieve the correct number, type, and placement of personnel.”

The DHS in comments included with the report said it “remains committed to ensuring correct staffing levels, ratios, and placements to guide targeted recruitment campaigns for priority Mission Critical Operations.” A new “manpower model registry” will help the department meet its personnel goals, the DHS added.

The department declined Bloomberg BNA’s request for further comment.

Alternatives to Hiring Surge?

The report’s findings are “an indication of how difficult it will be to fill these roles,” Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 1.

The result of the hiring surge that the administration has proposed for the CBP and ICE may be lower-quality applicants, Nowrasteh said.

“You may have people who can’t get jobs with law enforcement agencies near where they live,” he said, noting that Border Patrol positions, in particular, often involve moving to remote locations.

It’s not clear that the CBP and ICE even need to hire 15,000 new employees, particularly when there’s been a decrease in apprehensions at border crossings, Nowrasteh added.

“Maybe hiring more Border Patrol agents isn’t the way to go,” he said. Other options include moving Border Patrol agents in other locations to the southwest border, where there’s the most need, or moving qualified employees from office positions to the field, Nowrasteh said.

The Cato Institute is a Washington-based nonprofit that describes its mission as defending “individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.”

Low Morale Could Complicate Hiring

Hiring 15,000 employees is by itself a “large and complex undertaking” that requires a workforce plan, Mallory Barg Bulman, vice president for research and evaluation at the Partnership for Public Service, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 1.

When the hiring involves a “geographically diverse population that needs security clearances, a strategic human capital plan is critical,” she said.

Low morale at the CBP and ICE makes hiring the agents even tougher, Bulman said. In the partnership’s most recent “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” report, CBP was ranked 291 out of 305 federal agency “ subcomponents,” while ICE was ranked 299, she said.

During the last hiring surge at the Border Patrol, in the early 2000s, “people who shouldn’t have been hired were hired” because of the need to ramp up quickly, David Inserra told Bloomberg BNA. Inserra is a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based group that supports limited government.

The DHS has since tightened its hiring standards and processes, Inserra said. But this in turn has made it more difficult for the department to hire border control personnel, he said.

The inspector general is correct in saying the department has to take a good look at its workforce needs before it embarks on the hiring surge, he said.

“Any answer on the ideal workforce has to come from inside DHS,” Inserra said. The department “can’t arbitrarily increase number of employees, without knowing what its needs are,” he said.

Plan Needed, Union Says

Along with finding a new DHS secretary to replace John Kelly, who is now chief of staff at the White House, the department needs a strong workforce plan, J. David Cox Sr. told Bloomberg BNA. Cox is president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

“We need to make sure all new working people brought aboard the agency are in the best position to succeed, and we’re sure the next director will ensure they are,” Cox said in an email.

The AFGE is an AFL-CIO affiliate that represents about 700,000 federal and District of Columbia government employees, including roughly 17,000 Border Patrol agents.

To contact the reporter on this story: Louis C. LaBrecque in Washington at llabrecque@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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