A Federal Emergency Management Agency employee pleads guilty to embezzling more than $143,000. Two former agents are found guilty of running an immigrant smuggling ring while at Border Patrol. A former Coast Guard supervisor is found guilty of mail fraud involving stolen government equipment.
Those developments, all from the last few months, are part of a steady stream of cases involving misconduct by some in the Department of Homeland Security’s 240,000-strong workforce. As a result, the DHS inspector general has added “employee accountability and integrity” to its latest annual update of the department’s major management challenges.
Although the vast majority of the department’s workers are dedicated civil servants, “the impact from even one corrupt employee represents a significant management challenge to the department and could negatively affect national security,” acting Inspector General Charles Edwards said in a statement to Federal Times explaining the first-time listing in the report, released last week.
The challenge is growing, particularly in the border areas, Bill Hillburg, a spokesman for the inspector general’s office, added in an interview. In fiscal 2011, the last year for which full statistics are available, the IG fielded almost 5,900 complaints against Customs and Border Protection employees, a 25 percent increase over 2010. The number of investigations referred for prosecution also jumped 50 percent — from 341 in 2010 to 511 in 2011. Most of those referrals involved DHS employees, Hillburg said. Since 2004, there have been 358 CBP-related convictions stemming from the inspector general’s work and an additional 166 involving Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employees, according to the report.
In an emailed response, DHS spokesman Matt Chandler said the department offers employees guidance and training to help them manage potential conflicts of interest and other ethics questions.
In an interview, Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher added that combating corruption is a “fundamental strategic objective” of the agency.
Fisher said the agency requires polygraph exams of all law enforcement applicants. With a workforce of about 21,500, the Border Patrol has more than doubled in size over the last decade.
Integrity issues at the department have already caught Congress’ attention. At a May hearing of the House Homeland Security oversight subcommittee, lawmakers singled out problems at CBP, ICE and the Transportation Security Administration. “Even though there are stacks of government manuals, training materials and yearly briefings about ethics, these lapses continue,” the subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said at the hearing.