Customs and Border Patrol has struggled for years to meet even the minimum staffing levels mandated by Congress and is currently short 6,927 border patrol agents, 1,000 CBP officers and over 600 Air and Marine Operations front line personnel.
In November 2017, CBP entered into a contract with Accenture Federal Services to help recruit and hire the needed personnel and improve hiring systems, but opinions are mixed as to whether the contract has proven a worthwhile use of agency resources.
The contract stipulates that Accenture receives approximately $40,000 per candidate successfully brought on as an employee, while the company absorbs the cost of unsuccessful candidates.
According to Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., only approximately three percent of applicants are ultimately hired at CBP.
Accenture has also worked with the agency to develop a new hiring and recruiting system, a digital marketing and advertising campaign, an applicant care management system and two call centers, at a cost of approximately $19 million.
“It’s the same capability that leading companies are using across America to improve their recruiting process,” said John Goodman, chief executive at Accenture Federal Services, at a March 7 hearing on CBP staffing issues.
But National Treasury Employee Union National President Tony Reardon said that the funds expended on the Accenture contract could be better spent on incentivization initiatives.
“NTEU rather believes that this money could be better spent by utilizing available pay flexibilities to incentivize new and existing CBP officers to seek vacant positions at hard to fill ports of entry. We are relieved to learn that CBP is negotiating an end to this costly and wasteful contract,” said Reardon at the hearing.
Hiring incentives have proven effective at increasing staffing at traditionally hard to fill posts, according to Benjamine Huffman, acting executive assistant commissioner of enterprise services at CBP.
He testified that two ports of entry, which had previously experienced staffing shortages, were able to make significant inroads increasing personnel by offering a 25 to 33 percent hiring incentive,
“[The Office of Field Operations] took an innovative approach over the last couple of years, because they changed the way they were recruiting and hiring, and it had some very positive effects. I think there’s some good lessons learned for the organization as a whole,” said Huffman.
Reardon cautioned that even as hiring incentives do much to attract new CBP officers, the pay and benefits of established employees should also be increased, to ensure that they are not receiving less than their new coworkers and therefore increase retention rates.
One such benefit for established workers is the opportunity to choose a new work location based on seniority, so that employees are not stuck in isolated and difficult-to-live-in areas for large swaths of their careers.
“Both involuntary overtime and involuntary work assignments far from home disrupt CBP officers’ family lives and destroys morale. With CBP officer attrition hovering around four percent, Congress must direct CBP to use all recruitment and retention tools at their disposal,” said Reardon.
A Government Accountability Office report released March 7 noted that while it is too early into the Accenture contract to determine its success, CBP should concentrate its efforts on finding out why employees leave the agency and use that information to improve hiring and retention practices.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.