One of President Donald Trump’s often-cited campaign promises during last year’s election was the need to increase security at the border. So far in 2017, he seems to be delivering on that promise in one of the larger expenditures in his administration.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been mandated to hire an additional 5,000 agents to help secure the U.S.-Mexico border. CBP currently has over 60,000 employees who are responsible for screening cargo and individuals at U.S. borders, and seizes nearly 6 tons of illicit drugs per day.
The agency describes itself as “America’s frontline,” but that frontline has been losing more members than it hires in recent years. The 5,000 agent surge comes at a time when CBP is struggling to meet the minimum staffing levels mandated by Congress. From 2013 to 2016, an average of 523 agents were hired, while 904 left the agency.
Since the problem of retention has gotten out of hand for CBP, the agency has outsourced the hiring of the agents to a private company, Accenture. This stems from the Jan. 25th executive order signed by President Trump, in which he ordered the surge in CBP agents.
Accenture, a professional services corporation with $35 billion in revenues in 2017, was awarded a $297 million contract to help recruit and hire new agents and other workers in order to maintain the mandated staffing minimums and potentially help increase border security. The 5-year contract will see to the hiring of 5,000 agents, 2,000 customs officers, and 500 agents for the Office of Air and Marine Operations.
CBP released a statement trying to alleviate some of the skepticism about the decision to hire Accenture and to provide an explanation for the need for the new initiative. It said that several factors, including “changing generational values, the state-wide legalization of marijuana and a growing distrust of law enforcement” have made hiring more difficult. “Not unlike other major companies and organizations, we are expanding our recruiting and hiring efforts to find better, more effective ways to recruit, hire and retain frontline personnel,” CBP added.
Skeptics, however, worry about the cost and the need for such a measure. “They’re spending almost $40,000 per hire,” said Alex Nowrasteh, an analyst at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think thank in Washington, D.C. Assuming the contract is fully paid and lasts the full five years, CBP will have paid $39,600 per hire, which is just below the $39,738 starting pay for a customs officer.
CBP, however, has said that the cost estimate are erroneous. Nowrasteh also questions the need for the mandated minimum, as there were 1.2 million apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants in 2001, and 310,000 this year, making 2017 the lowest level of apprehensions in 46 years. The flow and seizure of illicit drugs across the border, however, has ebbed and flowed, indicating an unpredictability that remains a strong case for proponents of the hiring surge.
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