Rep. Cuellar: Better screening of DHS hiring prospects needed
September 3rd 2012 · 3 Comments
The increased hiring of Border Patrol and other federal agents for U.S.-Mexico border security operations has created a need for a better screening process of prospective employees, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar said.
The Department of Homeland Security released a report last month detailing almost 1,400 internal investigations, netting 318 arrests and 260 convictions, all from 2011. While praising the DHS Office of Inspector General’s effort to investigate employee corruption, Cuellar said more efforts can be made on the front end — including mandatory polygraph tests — to ensure DHS is hiring the right people.
But Cuellar, who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, said some of the employee arrests could be attributed to growing pains for the fast-expanding DHS. Since 9/11, the number of Border Patrol agents assigned to the Southwest border has expanded from 9,100 agents to more than 17,500.
“The last 10 years, we have hired almost double the amount of Border Patrol agents,” Cuellar said. “Any time you have a lot of folks coming in, you will have these kind of situations.”
- Click here to read the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General report.
DHS’s Office of Inspector General released the report in August that summarized significant investigations it opened in 2011. After reviewing and receiving almost 20,000 allegations of employee misconduct last year, DHS initiated nearly 1,400 investigations that resulted in 260 convictions and 119 personnel actions.
Among the office’s significant investigations closed in the past year that were included in the report:
>> A U.S. Customs and Border agent assigned to the Pharr port of entry who was sentenced to 24 months of probation. Manuel Salazar, an eight-year veteran of the agency, was found to have allowed vehicles carrying more than 1,700 pounds of marijuana through his inspection lane in exchange for about $10,000 in bribes. Salazar, who denied being paid any money, was convicted of providing false statements to investigators and accepting bribes.
>> A CBP agent who helped a smuggler bring 30 illegal immigrants into the United States. Ricardo Cordero, a 12-year veteran officer in El Paso, admitted to investigators that he helped the smuggler, who testified on his behalf during a divorce trial. Cordero, who also smuggled 15 other immigrants into the country on his own, told investigators he let them into the country because of his “soft spot for humanitarian needs,” the report states. He was sentenced to 27 months in jail.
>> An Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer who was convicted of taking almost $300,000 in bribes from Chicago-area employees of South American-themed restaurants. An inspector general’s investigation found that William Mann received about $1,500 each from at least 19 restaurant employees and their spouses to alter a law enforcement database to show they had only recently entered the country as visitors. Mann was sentenced to 46 months in prison.
Dozens of other investigations are detailed in the report, ranging from Transportation Security Administration employees who stole from airport luggage to a New Orleans resident who defrauded the federal government of about $439,000 in false disaster claims. The investigations included malfeasance in DHS operations in securing the border, civil rights violations and disaster relief fraud involving contractors, claimants and Federal Emergency Management Agency employees.
Any perception that corruption in DHS is confined to the border is debunked by the report, Cuellar said, pointing to internal investigations opened in all parts of the country. Although he said the “bad apples” make up a small percentage of total DHS employees, Cuellar said the high number of investigations underscores a need for a heightened screening process of employees.
“We need to do a better job of vetting these people,” Cuellar said. “It’s a continuous vetting process, not only at the beginning but throughout, including polygraphs.”
A version of this column originally appeared in www.themonitor.com.
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By Jared Janes