Border Patrol agents are quitting at almost double the attrition rate for law enforcement governmentwide and the agency is down nearly 2,000 officers from the staffing minimums set by Congress, hampering efforts to secure the border, AFGE members told a congressional panel Jan. 9.
“As an agency, the Border Patrol is only as good as its employees,” said Jon Anfinsen, a field agent in Del Rio, Texas, who serves as a vice president of AFGE’s National Border Patrol Council. “If we cannot retain quality personnel, we will never be able to secure our border.”
The attrition rate for Border Patrol agents is 6 percent, compared to 3.2 percent across all federal law enforcement agencies, Anfinsen testified in a hearing before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.
The rate of retirements only adds to the agency’s hiring struggles. Congress has set a minimum staffing level of 21,370 agents, but the agency is nearly 10 percent below that number. The agency hired, trained, and deployed just 485 new agents in 2016.
“At this hiring rate, we are not able to keep up with attrition, much less add manpower,” Anfinsen said.
Anfinsen and others said cited several reasons for the staffing struggles, including low morale, punishing work conditions, and inequitable wages.
Border Patrol agents are paid lower rates for working overtime, nights, and weekends than customs officers who staff U.S. ports of entry, even though they are both part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
“We don’t even have pay parity within our agencies within CBP,” said Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council. “We need to look at the pay issues within the Border Patrol and we need to make those pay issues equal across the board.”
Judd said the staffing shortages are putting more agents in harm’s way. Assaults on agents were up 76 percent in 2017 compared to the prior year, with 774 reported assaults last year.
“In the field, manpower equals response time, whether it be a sensor hit or an agent fighting for his or her life,” Judd said. “Currently we have agents covering large scale areas where the nearest backup may be more than 15 to 20 minutes away. As someone who has had to struggle to arrest a violent subject on more than one occasion, that kind of response time is equivalent to no response at all.”
The staffing shortage has created a national security vulnerability, said Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona, who chairs the subcommittee.
“The manpower shortage is getting worse,” McSally said. “We are losing ground every single month and there is no end in sight as we continue to lose experienced agents and officers through attrition without the ability to efficiently hire new ones.”
She said shortening the long hiring process and easing requirements for passing polygraphs would help the agency overcome its staffing hurdles.