- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2016

U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s disciplinary system takes far too long to resolve misconduct cases, making it an ineffective deterrent to corruption of border agents and posing a potential national security risk, according to findings of an independent task force.

The 49-page report issued Tuesday by the CBP Integrity Advisory Panel highlights concern over the threat that corruption within the Border Patrol could pose, particularly given the aid that corrupt officers could provide those trying to infiltrate the border.

“Corrupt CBP law enforcement personnel pose a national security threat,” states the report, which was submitted Tuesday to the Homeland Security Advisory Council.

Gangs and drug cartels “employ a variety of methods in an attempt to target, recruit and corrupt law enforcement personnel who then can facilitate the smuggling of drugs and people and other criminal activity,” the report states. “Such corrupt officials can assist the cartels by providing intelligence and facilitating the movement of large amounts of contraband.”

The agency now lacks any form of proactive initiatives to weed out corruption, instead investigating based on reporting from other employees, other government agencies or the public.

In a case highlighted in December by the Texas Observer, CBP agent Manny Pena had been investigated internally multiple times — once over harboring an illegal alien, his Mexican-born wife, and another time on claims he was conspiring with other agents to smuggle drugs and people across the border.

But he was only fired after agents staking out a gun store for a separate investigation happened to witness him making an illegal straw purchase of a firearm. The 12-year CBP officer was criminally charged and received a 5-year prison sentence as a result of the chance discovery.

The CBP’s discipline process overall is “broken,” states the integrity panel’s report, noting that the “average case involving allegations of serious misconduct takes more than a year and a half from intake to final disposition of discipline.”

The agency has also made little progress on a previous recommendation to increase the number of agents assigned to investigate internal corruption. The panel, led by New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton and former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief Karen Tandy, in June recommended the agency more than double its internal affairs criminal investigators from 200 to 550.

Since the initial recommendation was made to staff up, the agency has taken steps to hire an additional 57 investigators to help oversee its more than 60,000 employees — including 44,000 armed law enforcement officers.

Complicating internal investigations is the fact that several different offices within CBP have overlapping responsibilities during the process, the report states. As part of its recommendations, the panel suggests that CBP agents be deemed national security employees and reclassified as excepted service, as are FBI agents and other Department of Homeland Security employees, to speed up the discipline process.

CBP officials declined to address any questions about the report or whether the agency agrees with or intends to comply with the latest recommendations.

In a statement provided by email, CBP spokesman Jim Burns said the agency had already addressed several of the 14 initial recommendations laid out by the task force in June. Among the recommendations characterized as “addressed” was the staffing increase of 57 internal investigators despite the recommendation of adding 350 such investigators.

“We are reviewing each of the report’s recommendations with careful consideration to further the progress made in these critical areas,” the CBP statement said.

Shawn Moran, vice president of the union that represents border agents, agreed that internal investigations take far too long, but he took issue with several of the report’s recommendations. He said the recommendation to reclassify agents would not help to weed out corruption but would instead dissolve the union and result in less protection for whistleblowers within the agency.

He said issues with corruption within the CBP stem from issues related to the agency’s efforts to quickly hire new agents over the last decade. Hiring standards were lowered and the training academy shortened, resulting in less qualified candidates joining the agencies, Mr. Moran said.

To improve the quality of the applicants being hired, Mr. Moran suggested that CBP move its background screening process in-house, rather than leaving it to an outside agency, so that individuals with a more vested interest in attracting high-level employees are overseeing the process.

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