US homeland security department has hiring surge in its sights as new bill gains support

By on 23/03/2022 | Updated on 23/03/2022
Border Patrol officers stood at a bus terminal
A new bill could free up US law enforcement to concentrate on their jobs and improve infrastructure and equipment to protect officers

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could be set to increase its headcount after years of understaffing at ports of entry if a new bipartisan bill is passed.

Under the Securing America’s Ports of Entry Act, at least 600 new officers per year could be added to the agency’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) team until its staffing goals are met.

DHS data shows CBP currently has a shortage of nearly a thousand officers, which could increase twofold if traffic returns to pre-pandemic levels.

High vacancy rates at the agency have long been a concern. Critics included the Obama administration, which said thousands more employees were needed at US ports. The Trump administration concentrated hiring drives on other areas within the DHS, though positions were often left unfilled.

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Lawmakers have said that if passed, the bill would free up law enforcement to concentrate on their jobs, and that it would improve infrastructure and equipment to protect officers at risk of exposure to dangerous drugs and toxins when inspecting international goods.

The measure has gained the support from unions representing both CBP officers and Border Patrol personnel.

Security spread thinly

Gary Peters, senator for Michigan, said staffing shortages threatened CBP’s ability to “facilitate safe and lawful trade and travel across our borders”. Peters, who introduced the bill, chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

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“We must ensure these dedicated officers, who have served on the frontlines throughout the pandemic, have the support they need to perform critical functions, like detecting and preventing illegal drugs from reaching our communities,” he said, as reported by Government Executive (GovExec)

Texas senator John Cornyn said that the bill could stop CBP removing employees from their normal duties to deal with migrant surges at the border, which it has had to do in the past.

Cornyn commented that when staff are reallocated on short notice, “we run the risk of legitimate trade and travel grinding to a halt”, adding that the bill would satisfy both trade and travel needs as well as border crisis management.

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, has long been an advocate for more staffing resources at CBP and has regularly pressured Congress on the issue. “Now that international trade and travel are recovering, Congress needs to increase their ranks,” he said.

In 2019, Global Government Forum reported that an internal watchdog found DHS did not have the data needed to assess the strengths and weaknesses of its cyber personnel, and that it was two years late in delivering a promised workforce strategy.

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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