U.S. Customs and Border Protection would have the authority to waive polygraph tests in the hiring of former law-enforcement officers or Armed Services members for Border Patrol positions under a bill set for introduction Thursday by Sen. Jeff Flake.
Flake, R-Ariz., wants to loosen congressionally mandated hiring standards to help the CBP overcome the challenges it has had hiring enough Border Patrol agents to fill existing positions.
Anecdotally, Flake said he frequently hears about discouraged Border Patrol job applicants who fear "false positives" from the lie-detector tests will follow them as they pursue other job opportunities.
"We've just been having a heck of a time trying to get the Border Patrol to hit its hiring numbers," Flake told The Arizona Republic. "They get 6,500 to 7,000 applications and then they hire fewer than 600 people, less than 1 percent. The failure rates on the lie-detector tests, or polygraphs, are just out of control. ... We hear horror stories all the time."
Loosening the lie-detector requirement is not the only action needed to boost Border Patrol hiring, he said, "but it is a big part of the problem."
"Just to get ahead of attrition, we have to be hiring, I think, nearly 3,000 a year, and we're not even getting close to that," Flake said.
Waiver would apply to certain applicants
According to a summary provided by his office, Flake's bill, tentatively titled the "Boots on the Border Act," would let Customs and Border Protection waive the lie-detector tests for these applicants:
•State and local law-enforcement officers who have worked at least three consecutive years, have clean records and who already have successfully taken a polygraph with their agencies.
•U.S. law-enforcement officers who have worked at least three consecutive years, have clean records and have cleared a federal "Tier 4" background investigation.
•Military members who have been honorably discharged after serving at least four years, who hold a certain level of security clearance and who have undergone a background check within the past five years.
It would help to be able to take people out of law-enforcement and the military and say, 'If you've already passed a lie-detector test, it's good, move ahead.
- Senator Jeff Flake
"It would help to be able to take people out of law-enforcement and the military and say, 'If you've already passed a lie-detector test, it's good, move ahead,' " Flake said. "This waiver we're seeking: If you've been in law-enforcement you've had to have passed a polygraph already."
The Border Patrol had 19,828 agents in fiscal year 2016, according to the most recent data available. That was 1,542 fewer than the 21,370 available Border Patrol positions that year. CBP requested funding for 21,070 agents in fiscal year 2017, which began Oct. 1, 2016.
Flake's bill would also help President Donald Trump fulfill his executive orders on immigration enforcement and border security calling for the hiring of 5,000 new Border Patrol agents, and 10,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
CBP's polygraph failure rate
The Associated Press reported in January that about two-thirds of job applicants fail CBP’s polygraph.
The AP found the CBP polygraph failure rate is more than double the average rate of law-enforcement agencies that provided data under open-records requests. It’s a major reason why the Border Patrol recently fell below 20,000 agents for the first time since 2009, the AP said.
Some critics, however, say it would be a mistake to loosen hiring standards put in place by Congress to prevent drug cartels from trying to infiltrate the Border Patrol.
A 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office found drug-trafficking organizations intentionally target U.S. law-enforcement personnel with bribes and other inducements to help smuggle drugs and migrants across the border.
From fiscal years 2006 to 2011 — when the number of CBP officers and Border Patrol agents along the Southwest border soared to 24,057 from 15,792 — 144 current and former CBP officers were arrested or indicted on corruption-related activities, the report said.
The Migration Policy Institute estimates hiring 5,000 new Border Patrol agents would cost an additional $780 million annually. That works out to $7.8 billion over 10 years.
Besides beefing up the ranks of the Border Patrol to help stop illegal immigration along the border, Trump’s executive orders also call for hiring 10,000 new ICE agents and officers to find, arrest and deport immigration violators inside the United States.
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