Border securityStrike Two: The CBP’s failure to polygraph its future employees

By Robert Lee Maril

Published 28 October 2013

Two recent reports – one by the DHS OIG, the other by the GAO — raise an alarm not just about CBP’s failure to monitor and ameliorate the use of excessive force by its agents and officers, but also call into question the quality and character of CBP’s current work force. Rather than reassure the public that the CBP is transitioning into a modern, professional law enforcement agency, these two reports highlight the need for increased congressional oversight and study of an agency which is so vital to our national security.

Robert Lee Merril, professor of sociology at East Carolina University // Source:

Since the events of 9/11, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has come under increased scrutiny by both the general public and our elected officials. The numbers of CBP agents and CBP officers — formerly the Border Patrol and  Customs Agents, respectively — have increased dramatically, as mandated by Congress in 2006. In a previous column I documented a recent GAO report revealing certain crucial problems within CBP, focusing on employee corruption and on-line educational modules designed to reduce  this corruption, in light of CBP’s history, organizational culture, and methods of data collection (see “Behind the recent reports on corruption in Customs and Border Protection,” HSNW, 27 September 2013).  

Of equal concern is the recent report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) regarding CBP’s use of excessive force (CBP Use of Force Training and Actions to Address Use of Force Incidents, Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, OIG-13-114 [Revised], September 2013). This report is in response to a request by Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) and fifteen members of Congress, to “…review incidents involving the use of force by CBP employees.” Specifically, 19 deaths occurred during 2012 involving CBP, but no agency employees were ever indicted.

OIG was asked to: “(1) examine and summarize reports of investigation alleging brutality and use of excessive force by CBP employees, (2) determine what reforms DHS has implemented to address the number of incidents involving the use of force by CBP employees, and (3) determine what effect adding more agents and officers to the workforce has had on training and professionalism.”

When this redacted report was released in September, the broadcast and print media, along with agency critics, focused upon CBP’s failure to collect excessive force case data that would allow an objective, scientific analysis (see, for example, these PBS reports). This CBP failure to collect institutional data on excessive force which would provide an assessment of its performance by the public and Congress should not be envisioned as an agency oversight, but is unfortunately consistent with the long history of this agency (Robert Lee Maril, Patrolling Chaos: The U.S. Border Patrol in Deep South Texas, 2003).