The shorthanded U.S. Customs and Border Protection is banking on a headhunting contract that runs $40,000 per hire.
Plagued by chronic staff shortages and high attrition, the agency is authorized to “onboard” 5,000 new Border Patrol agents this year. But staffers are leaving as quickly as new ones are recruited. Officials say it could take a decade to fill the slots.
Now CBP is paying a private company, Accenture, $297 million to bolster the ranks. Accenture is an intriguing choice, given that one of the firm’s specialties is getting foreign workers hired in the U.S. Over the past two years, Accenture filed 15,133 H-1B applications on behalf of foreign nationals seeking employment here.
A CBP spokesman told FAIR that Accenture will help the agency “increase its outreach to candidates, target a larger geographic footprint and connect with diverse groups including women, minorities and veterans.”
Nothing wrong with that, we suppose, but skeptics, including the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wonder about the cost-benefit ratio.
Spending $297 million to recruit 5,000 works out to some $40,000 per hire – a bit more than a CBP officer’s starting salary. And the Accenture contract doesn’t cover the administrative costs of hiring.
With poor pay at least one cause of CBP’s high turnover, why not give deserving staffers a raise? A $100 weekly bump for all 20,000 agents would run $100 million a year – one-third the cost of the Accenture deal.
Another factor in CBP’s shortfall is its much-maligned lie-detector test, with a whopping 65 percent of job applicants failing the exams. The agency also wasted millions of dollars giving polygraphs to applicants who previously admitted to disqualifying criminal acts or drug use.
Elaine Duke, deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, acknowledged last month that the CBP polygraph is a “big issue,” and pledged to bring its parameters into line with other DHS agencies.
Likewise, Duke said DHS is looking at improving benefits for CBP agents working in “cruddy places,” of which there are many in the border badlands. Clearly, these officers have a tough and dangerous job; they need to be compensated accordingly.
But none of this is brain surgery. Nor should it require a $297 million outside contract to do a job that a functional organization would have been doing all along. CBP’s staffing challenges appear to be in the rear-echelon suites, not just on the front lines.