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

While CBP concurred with three recommendations advanced by the OIG’s report, the public and Congress now need to provide the necessary oversight to ensure compliance within a reasonable time frame. The “we-never-thought-it-was-important-to-collect-these-data” excuse should never again be accepted as a legitimate response by a federal law enforcement agency that is 90-years old and employs more than 60,000 workers.

But what the media and other agency watchdogs ignored are carefully parsed statements by the CBP that place the quality and character of its workforce in even deeper jeopardy. The surge of CBP recruits to the training academy began in 2006. CBP’s own figures, for example, show that Border Patrol recruits to the academy doubled from 2005 to 2006, then doubled again the following year; there were 926 trainees in 2005, 1,889 in 2006, and 3,912 in 2007.

However, CBP Internal Affairs waited until 2008, fully three years after the surge in recruitment by the CBP, to begin “…implementing a requirement that CBP conduct polygraph examinations of all prospective CBP law enforcement agents and officers by January 2013.”

The CBP admits that when it, “…began the polygraph program, approximately half of prospective agents or officers failed the examination.” It even goes on to state that, “…polygraphing 100 percent of prospective law enforcement agents and officers identifies and eliminates applicants who should not be in law enforcement. Pre-employment polygraphs have improved the quality of the workforce.” 

CPB polygraphs of its applicants, however, did not start until 2008, three years after the surge of recruits to its academy. This strongly suggests — according to CBP’s own statements — that a large number of CBP applicants, if given the polygraph in 2006 and 2007, would not have passed the polygraph test. Never the less, an unknown number of these recruits who would not have passed the polygraph most likely did graduate from the academy, given the ratio of entry level trainees to academy graduates.

Further, CBP did not polygraph 100 percent of its applicants until “mid-2012.” Again, doing the simple math suggests that another significant number of agents since 2008 who could not pass the polygraph were nevertheless graduated from the academy (CBP does not state in this report what percentage of recruits since 2008 has been polygraphed and what percentage has not). 

Does CBP have the numbers of agents and officers who were never given the polygraph? Has it identified them as possible risks? Has it followed up with regularly scheduled polygraphs of all agents and officers? The answer to all of these questions seems to be “no.”

Agency hubris appears in the narrative when the CBP responds, in this same report, that while a January 2013 goal was set to reach a 100 percent rate to polygraph all CBP applicants, the goal was in fact reached in mid-2012. Note that the same agency which chose not to collect data on the excessive force of its agents as recently as 2012 — a year in which 19 deaths occurred involving CBP employees — did, however, manage to collect data which the public is supposed to believe demonstrate this agency’s efficiency in achieving an institutional goal. Although this dubious goal was achieved, of course, CBP still allowed potentially thousands of trainees to enter the ranks of CBP agents and officers without ever having been screened by a simple polygraph test. 

This DHS OIG report, along with the GAO report detailed in a previous column, raises an alarm not just about CBP’s failure to monitor and ameliorate the use of excessive force by its agents and officers, but also calls into question the quality and character of its 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 whicht is so vital to our national security. 

Robert Lee Maril is a professor of Sociology at East Carolina University and the author of The Fence: National Security, Public Safety, andIllegal Immigration along the U.S.-Mexico Border. He blogs at