Just days after he took office, Donald Trump signed an executive order authorizing the hiring of 15,000 more Border Patrol and immigration officers.
But in 2018, all of 120 new agents were added to the workforce. And that’s the first net gain for the Border Patrol in five years.
The problem is that the plan was too ambitious to begin with and it’s getting even more difficult to retain Border Patrol agents already on the job.
Today, Customs and Border Protection — the Border Patrol’s parent agency — has more than 3,000 job vacancies, according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.
That’s about 2,000 more than when Trump signed the orders, according to a Government Accountability Office report on CBP’s hiring challenges.
Border Patrol staffing remains below the 21,360 agents mandated by Congress in 2016, which is itself 5,000 less than Trump’s order, according to the latest available data.
Part of the problem is the consulting firm the government contracted with to do the hiring:
The CBP contract with Accenture, awarded in November 2017, has drawn special scrutiny for its high cost and limited results.
CBP officials told the House Homeland Security Committee in November that only 33 new officers had been hired. Under the terms of the contract, the company is paid about $40,000 for each one.
An entry-level Border Patrol agent is paid $52,583 a year.
In December, the Homeland Security inspector general’s office said Accenture and CBP were “nowhere near” filling the president’s hiring order.
It warned that if problems in the “hastily approved” contract are not addressed, CBP risks “wasting millions of taxpayer dollars.”
CBP subsequently scaled back the Accenture contract from $297 million to $83 million and issued a partial stop-work order. Officials said the agency will decide in March whether to cancel the rest of the contract.
In defense of the contractor, hiring a law enforcement officer at any level is a difficult process. Extensive background checks are required, as well as careful physical and psychological evaluations.
It seems pretty clear that either the president wasn’t briefed on the difficulties of a hiring surge or the executive order was PR to begin with.
One way to increase the number of personnel would be to retain more agents. But patrolling the border is becoming increasingly dangerous and arduous. More pay might help, but beyond that, it doesn’t appear that this thankless job is high on too many people’s list of places to work.
Some experts question the value of hiring more agents, but as a statement of intent to secure the border, it’s still a good idea.