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BICE enforces the immigration and customs law within the interior United States. It combines the enforcement and investigative arms of the former Customs Service, INS, and Federal Protective Services.
BCBP combines the former APHIS agricultural inspection program, elements of the INS inspection services and Customs Service, including canine enforcement officers. BCBP focuses its operations on the movement of goods and people across the nation's borders.
BCBP officials indicated that the hiring of new officers is slow because of necessary background checks. The agency is experiencing a 10-20% attrition rate per year, which they attributed to the high cost of living in the San Diego division and the absence of LEO retirement coverage. Much of the attrition can be attributed to internal movement of officers to other positions in DHS that offer better pay or LEO coverage, or to BCBP positions in other parts of the country that enjoy a lower cost of living.
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Soi entry-level BCBP officers commuted as much as 100 because they could not afford the housing costs in the San Diego division. Officials said that the high concentration of military in the San Diego area skewed cost of living measures for the area. Specifically, the military presence depressed salary averages for the area, and since the military subsidizes housing or provides on-base living quarters, the salary averages for San Diego are not commensurate with the high housing costs for the region.
Officials informed the Subcommittee that the inspection job at the border is dangerous, with officers encountering criminals on a daily basis. There are approximately 10 “port runners" a month (someone who drives through the border checkpoint without stopping), with an average of eight or nine being apprehended.
Staff Visit to the San Ysidro Border Patrol Headquarters
Subcommittee staff visited with Border Patrol officers in San Ysidro to discuss their work conditions and standard of living. Staff also toured the border around San Ysidro by helicopter and by vehicle.
Officers noted that they faced danger from two major factors. First, a study has shown that 15-18% of the individuals illegally crossing the Southern border are criminals, and this has added to the danger of apprehending suspects. Border agents are sometimes pelted with rocks by illegal aliens and drug smugglers. Their attempts to stem the illegal drug trade also put them at the risk of violent confrontation.
The second risk factor they face is the rugged terrain around the San Ysidro Mountains. Though they have four-wheel drive vehicles, two have turned over in recent years, killing the agents inside.
Pay and Cost of Living
They also noted that the cost of living in the San Diego sector was very high, with median housing costs averaging about $350,000. Locality pay for the San Diego sector is 8%, while locality pay in Orange County is 16%. Patrol Agents claimed that homes cost less in Orange County. The cost of living results in a high attrition rate for the San Diego sector.
The San Ysidro Border Patrol commander suggested that joining the Border Patrol should be identified as a career path into more lucrative positions in other agencies, such as special agents for the BICE and FBI. The commanders said they had worked with BICE Special Agents who had been hired with no previous law enforcement experience, and that they had trouble with the apprehension and detention of criminals. They had difficulty “projecting authority,” and would benefit from the experience gained as a Border Patrol agent.
The commanders stated that giving Border Patrol agents hiring preference for FBI and BICE positions would help stabilize the Border Patrol workforce in the San Diego region as it would be a clearly identified career path for agents entering the service in that area. As it stands, most entry-level Border Patrol agents do not have enough income potential for them to make a longer-term commitment to the San Diego region.
Regarding the new DHS human resources management system, they stated that they face a “sophisticated foe" in the drug smugglers on the Mexican border, and that any new paybanding system should reflect the differences in job responsibilities of the various Border Patrol agents.
The commanders also stated that with the new focus on intercepting agents of terrorism, the Border Patrol job was becoming more investigative in nature, and that the Patrol needed more personnel trained and identified as “investigative" in character.
Recruitment and Force Quality
One of the commanders of the San Ysidro office complained that they are required to admit too many unqualified applicants for their academy. “Unqualified applicants” would include those that do not meet the physical requirements, or who have little or no law enforcement experience or general work experience. They are getting pressure from their Washington headquarters to accept lower quality applicants to create the perception that there is an adequate flow of candidates available to fill vacant positions. They said it cost them too much to filter out unqualified individuals at the academy and it also impacts the quality of the force. Using www.usajobs.opm.gov, some applicants are being approved for the academy via the internet. These candidates often have no significant job experience, and lack adequate security checks.
Mrs. DAVIS OF VIRGINIA. Finally, I ask unanimous consent that a memorandum prepared by my staff be entered into the record within 14 days of this hearing. The memorandum will detail the lessons learned from the trip that my subcommittee staff took to California last month to speak with Federal law enforcement officials. The minority staff will have 14 additional days to submit its views. Without objection, so ordered.
I would like to thank our very distinguished first panel consisting of Members of Congress and to say that we may be joined by a couple of gentlemen from the other side of the Capitol, Senator Dodd and Senator Schumer. It is clear that this issue is quite important to a large number of people by the number of folks that called and wanted to be witnesses. Since we have three large panels, I will urge everyone to please wrap up in 5 minutes or less so we can have plenty of time for everyone.
The subcommittee is fortunate to have four Members of the House: Representative Peter King from New York, Representative Bob Filner from California, Representative Mike Rogers from Michigan and the fourth Member, who should be joining us shortly, Representative Chris Van Hollen, who is also a member of the subcommittee, from Maryland.
I would like to thank you first, Representative King, for coming; and we will begin with you. STATEMENT OF HON. PETER KING, A REPRESENTATIVE IN
CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NEW YORK Mr. KING. Thank you very much, Madam Chairlady, Chairman Souder, Mr. Cummings, Mr. McHugh. I will take your admonition, and I will submit my statement in the record and make some very brief remarks on an issue which is extremely important to me.
I want to identify myself with all of the comments that were made by the members on the panel, especially Chairman Souder when he was talking about the problems resulting from the pay differentials. I certainly see it in New York. And, as Chairman Souder said, the areas of the country that most require cooperation between Federal law enforcement officials and local law enforcement officials are often the most expensive and the highest cost-of-living.
My father was a New York City police officer for over 30 years so I have a some idea how tough the job is, both at the Federal and at the local level. I also realize how important morale is. I also realize that since September 11 how local police departments all over the country are actively recruiting to get the very best they can. Their pay scales often are much higher than what is being paid at the Federal level, and yet there is extraordinary pressure being put on our Federal law enforcement.
As Congressman McHugh was pointing out, the whole idea of border patrols, the FBI, Secret Service, all of the Federal law enforcement officials whose job was tough enough on September 10, 2001, has increased exponentially since September 11. If we are going to have the quality Federal law enforcement we need, if we are going to maintain the morale that's needed to have effective Federal law enforcement and if we are not going to be losing people by attrition or going to other agencies, I believe it is absolutely essential we update the locality pay adjustments.
As Chairman Souder said, we have gone more than a decade where really nothing of consequence has been done. Instead, we have this hodgepodge of different regulations, different rules.
Certainly from Federal law enforcement officials I have spoken to there is a definite decline in morale. I know of cases in the New York area where Federal law enforcement officials have left to join local police departments. I can certainly understand it, but it is something we can ill afford at the Federal level, to be losing this type of talent and this type of ability.
We see it here in our own Capitol Police. You saw the hours they were putting in after September 11. So I would ask you certainly to give my legislation consideration.
Obviously, there is other legislation that's needed. Something has to be done. The issue of locality pay adjustments just has to be confronted and has to be met. I am proud there are 225 cosponsors of my legislation and, I think, 33 members of the Government Reform Committee. It does not have to be one particular bill or one particular piece of legislation. The important thing is we move forward.
My colleagues have important things to say. There are other Members who feel strongly about this issue, and I know Senator Dodd has introduced a companion bill to mine in the Senate. He certainly feels strongly about this.
Again, this is a bipartisan issue. It is an issue that affects our entire country. So I would just ask that this legislation be considered.
I thank you for chairing this hearing, Chairman Souder for his work, and I yield back the balance of my time. Mrs. Davis OF VIRGINIA. Thank you, Representative King. [The prepared statement of Hon. Peter King follows:]