New York Times
Federal anticorruption investigators continue to struggle to keep up with the screening of newly hired United States law enforcement officers working on the Mexican border and have fallen far behind in checking current employees as well, federal officials testified on Thursday.
The testimony came during a hearing in Washington before a subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security Committee on rising corruption among the ranks of federal law enforcement officers who patrol the border and guard ports of entry.
Representatives from the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security painted a grave picture of drug trafficking organizations trying to recruit federal officers to work for them and infiltrate the ranks.
Although the vast majority of officers do not betray their jobs, the corruption problem, said Kevin L. Perkins, an F.B.I. agent who helps supervise corruption investigations, “is significantly pervasive.”
Internal affairs officials from the Department of Homeland Security said that the rapid post-9/11 growth of Customs and Border Protection — the agency has swelled in recent years to more than 41,000 frontline border agents and officers — has meant that not all new hires are thoroughly vetted.
Polygraph examinations, which officials call an important tool to help weed out bad hires, were administered to about 15 percent of applicants by the end of 2009.
That was an increase from the 10 percent of the previous year, but made possible only because hiring slowed for the first time in several years.
James F. Tomsheck, who is in charge of internal affairs for Customs and Border Protection, said that about 60 percent of candidates failed the test and were turned away, including some who officials believed had ties to criminal organizations.
Senator Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat and chairman of the subcommittee that held the hearing, described the failure rate as “alarming to me.”
“It is to me, too, sir,” Mr. Tomsheck replied.
He said the agency had 31 polygraph examiners but needed 50 more to reach a goal of screening all new hires.
In addition, he said, the agency is far behind in conducting periodic background checks of current law enforcement employees.
He also proposed giving periodic polygraph examinations to those employees but said that Congressional authorization and financing would be needed.
Mr. Pryor pledged to help, saying, “We are on very dangerous ground here with this corruption.”
The hearing was called in response to an article in The New York Times in December about drug organizations making efforts to infiltrate the ranks of border enforcement, said Lisa Ackerman, a spokeswoman for Mr. Pryor.