Is Border Security a Matter of More Manpower or Better Management?

By Joseph J. Kolb on April 27, 2017

In one of his first executive orders in January, President Trump pledged to increase the U.S. Border Patrol by adding 5,000 more agents in an attempt to better shore up the southwest border. Then a funny thing happened.

Even before the first agent was recruited as part of this initiative, apprehension numbers for the southwest border were released in February showing a 27 percent drop.

So even before any new agents were hired or bids for the new border wall were submitted, the message was received loud and clear by would-be illegal border crossers that their illegal behavior would not be tolerated and would no longer receive tacit approval from a naïve administration.

This data suggests the effectiveness of the implied and explicit enforcement of the law. In fact, I have had agents tell me the same thing. More agents may not necessarily mean better, especially in light of the current agency management and recruiting deficiencies. Perhaps President Trump would be better to apply a business analytic to the issue than a political one. There's no doubt the line has to be strengthened, but should it be with manpower or consistent policy and legislative enforcement?

The U.S. Border Patrol is in dire need of a comprehensive management philosophy and priority overhaul. While the agency is exhilarated by the prospect of more agents being hired, it struggles to recruit and retain the ones they currently have.

The frustrated National Border Patrol Council (the union representing agents) has attempted to address this through various means, including contract negotiations, relocation agreements, pay reform, etc.

According to Terence Shigg of the NBPC, the biggest obstacles they have encountered are the budget, funding, and the Office of Border Patrol (OBP) priorities. The Border Patrol has paid to relocate its managers, but claims it has no money to pay to move non-supervisory agents. With this in mind, the NBPC agreed to several programs to increase the ability for agents to relocate. That agreement has expired and they are waiting for a new round of negotiations to get a new agreement. The agency also did away with "hardship" stations in order to stop compensating agents assigned to remote locations.

Retention and hiring issues that Shigg thinks need to be addressed are:

  1. Adding career ladder opportunities for agents. If agents want to do investigations they have to leave the agency. Solutions include bringing back air, marine, and intel positions into Border Patrol, creating a non-supervisory senior/lead agent position, and decreasing the ratio of supervisors (the Border Patrol is 4:1 and most agencies are 10:1).

  2. Increasing pay parity with other CBP components (give back FLSA status).

  3. Revising the polygraph system (65 percent failure rate prevents hiring numbers needed).

  4. Bringing back hardship station designation.

  5. Increasing mobility and paid moves.

  6. Allowing agents to return to enforcing the laws on the books (interior patrol and transportation checks).

  7. Encouraging cooperation among all law enforcement agencies and discouraging laws such as SB54 in California.

  8. Increasing training.

  9. Completing negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

Hiring 5,000 agents is no easy or quick task. Since promising apprehension numbers have already been posted, the administration needs to examine what ails the agency before compounding the current problems with more agents.

Bigger is not always better.