- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The new head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is confident that he can meet the administration’s goal of putting 6,000 new U.S. Border Patrol agents — a 50 percent manpower increase — on the Southwest border by 2008.

The recruitment, hiring and training of new Border Patrol agents has been a major challenge for CBP Commissioner W. Ralph Basham’s predecessors.

But Mr. Basham, former director of the U.S. Secret Service and chief of staff for the Transportation Security Administration, has an advantage: He once headed the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, N.M., where the new agents will be trained.

“We have a working plan that will reduce the total number of days the trainees attend the academy, but not the training they receive,” Mr. Basham told The Washington Times during an interview at his office in Washington.

“We will compress the overall training schedule from 92 to 81 days beginning in October.”

Mr. Basham was sworn in June 6 at the Border Patrol Academy at the center in Artesia to become CBP’s second commissioner in a ceremony witnessed by President Bush and 1,000 Border Patrol academy trainees. He replaced Commissioner Robert C. Bonner, who retired in November.

“I come to CBP at a time it is strong and moving forward on initiatives important to the security of our nation and to the vitality of our economy,” Mr. Basham said at the time.

The ceremony was the kickoff for a two-week tour by Mr. Basham of the border from Texas to California. He described the visit as “an incredible educational process” and suggested that all 535 members of Congress looking to legislate immigration reform “would be well-served” to do the same.

Mr. Basham said a secure border in the post-September 11 world was not only an issue of national sovereignty and economic prosperity but also one of national security. He said CBP’s job of protecting the border has always been important, but “never more important — or more difficult — than it is today.”

Last month, Mr. Bush ordered 6,000 National Guard troops at a cost of $1.9 million to help the Border Patrol secure the southern border. The troops will operate surveillance systems, analyze intelligence, install fences and vehicle barriers and build roads and provide training, but they will not be involved in direct law-enforcement activities.

As the new Border Patrol agents and congressionally mandated technologies come on line, the Guard forces will be reduced.

Mr. Basham said an aggressive recruiting effort by the agency has resulted in “no want for applicants,” adding that an ongoing attrition rate of 4 percent — significantly down from prior years — means that 8,800 new agents ultimately will have to be hired and trained to fill the 6,000 slots.

“But I’m encouraged by the commitment I’ve seen from the White House and Congress, who have made border security a priority, and by the quality of those applicants who want to do the job,” he said.

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