An effort to tamp down on corruption within the Homeland Security Department also has helped the agency’s inspector general’s office do more with a flat budget, the department’s chief internal watchdog told a House subcommittee Wednesday.
The initiative pairs headquarters’ auditors with investigators at Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, augmenting the IG’s workforce and enabling enhanced collaboration among the three agencies, said acting Inspector General Charles Edwards during a hearing of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Organization.
“The Border Patrol, [which is part of CBP], has increased over 38 percent in the last several years,” Edwards said. “And OIG has remained relatively flat. OIG is supportive of the President’s budget. However, we have been asking for resources over the last several years.” The IG’s office signed a memorandum of understanding to share resources and cases with CBP in August 2011. It signed a similar agreement with ICE. Both have helped the office keep up with an increasing workload, Edwards said.
“By 2011, OIG’s policy to open allegations of employee corruption, or compromise of border, or transportation security, combined with the expanding workforce, led to a 95 percent increase over fiscal year 2004 of complaints involving CBP employees,” Edwards said.
OIG maintained 1,591 open cases as of July 15, more than 600 of which name agents or others working for CBP.
Transferring cases to partners
The agreements let the IG’s office transfer cases to CBP and ICE investigators, relieving workloads in its Office of Investigations (INV), which employs 219 people responsible for policing a DHS workforce of more than 220,000 employees.
“Border corruption may take the form of cash bribes, sexual favors and other gratuities in return for allowing contraband or undocumented aliens through primary inspection lanes or even protecting and escorting border crossings,” the OIG said last year in a statement announcing its partnership with CPB.
Other instances include leaking sensitive law enforcement information to someone under investigation, selling law enforcement intelligence to smugglers and forging documents, such as immigration papers.
Beyond helping the OIG maintain forward momentum on its cases, the agreements have created a newfound level of cooperation and collaboration among the agencies involved, said David Aguilar, CBP’s acting commissioner.
“Collaboration with our DHS partners has greatly enhanced our effectiveness and has given CBP leadership unprecedented insight into the threat that potentially corrupt employees may pose to the homeland,” he said, “giving us the opportunity to make adjustments, to look at our processes and instill new workforce policies in order to avoid any kind of corruption.”
Putting MOUs in place to guide information sharing about open investigations lets the IG maintain its necessary independence while also equipping ICE and CBP to remove suspected corrupt agents from the frontlines, said Daniel Ragsdale, acting deputy director of ICE.
“It is important for us to get to the root of the corruption problems in DHS rather than just pulling up weeds of individual cases,” he said.
Battle against corruption turns internal
But still, investigators are fighting an uphill battle as CBP and other agencies work to tighten border security.
“Since it is harder and harder for traffickers to get around our agents at the border, they have turned their resources toward corrupting those agents,” Aguilar said. “We are working to identify any procedural issues that may need to be addressed and to sustain a culture that does not accept corruption.”
The IG investigators themselves, however, also are not free from corruption.
In April, IG employees at the field office in McAllen, Texas, reportedly falsified records. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) brought up the case during the hearing, but Edwards declined to comment publicly, citing its status as an ongoing grand jury investigation. Eight IG employees currently are on administrative leave, Edwards said.
Edwards added he also would like to put an MOU in place with the FBI.