- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

Three unions representing the nation’s border agents and inspectors say a survey of their members shows front-line officers are not getting the proper tools, training or support to stop terrorists from entering the United States.

The survey, released yesterday, concludes that the Department of Homeland Security should be doing more in the war on terror, disagrees with its fundamental enforcement strategies and believes mismanagement and lack of support has caused morale to “plummet precipitously” among border agents and inspectors along America’s 6,000 miles of international border.

“The bureaucratic bungling that plagued and hampered the old Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has not only survived, it has thrived in the new Department of Homeland Security,” T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC), said in announcing the survey results.

“Business as usual is no longer acceptable, however, since there can be no margin of error when dealing with terrorists,” said Mr. Bonner, whose council represents all 10,000 of the patrol’s nonsupervisory agents. “While no system is foolproof, the current system is just plain foolish.”

According to the survey, 64 percent of those questioned believe they do not have the tools, training or support they need to combat terrorism, 44 percent said the country is no safer today than it was on September 11 and 62 percent said Homeland Security could be doing more to protect the country from terrorist attacks

The survey, commissioned by the NBPC, the National Homeland Security Council and the American Federation of Government Employees, also found that 60 percent said morale within the border force is low and 45 percent said they had considered leaving the job, mainly citing poor management.

But a top U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official called the review “inaccurate, bias and poorly done.”

CBP spokeswoman Christiana Halsey said only 500 of 42,000 CBP employees were questioned, and those interviews involved agents and inspectors in the unions’ databases, including union representatives and stewards. She said only 250 Border Patrol agents and 250 former INS inspectors were surveyed and no effort was made to talk with new CBP officers from the U.S. Customs Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

“We have undergone the largest reorganization in government in 50 years, combining four agencies with four different missions and four different budgets into a single, unified organization to put one face at the border,” she said. “It was an enormous step, certainly a stressful time, but we have made sure they have the right tools and the necessary training.

“To say otherwise would be absolutely inaccurate,” she said. “We’re evolving to confront the threat of terrorism, and we continue to do so. Every day, dedicated border personnel are turning away someone who poses a risk to this country.”

Charles Showalter, president of the National Homeland Security Council, which represents 18,000 former INS agents and inspectors now assigned to Homeland Security, yesterday said: “We are here today to give our nation’s policy-makers, lawmakers and all Americans a message: the war on terror is in danger of being lost at the borders, the airports and the seaports.”

Mr. Bonner said that pending budget cuts within the patrol — estimated at $18 million in the coming fiscal year — will continue to hamper efforts to control America’s borders. He noted that $64.1 million had been reallocated in the Border Patrol budget for sensors and surveillance technology, and another $10 million for unmanned aerial vehicles.

“While such technology can be useful in pinpointing the location of those who cross our borders illegally, it cannot catch a single violator,” he said.

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