DHS IG struggles to keep up with border corruption cases

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A recent increase in border agent corruption cases has strained the Homeland Security Department's office of inspector general, said Charles Edwards, the acting IG, during an Aug. 1 House hearing.

The Customs and Border Patrol workforce grew 34 percent from fiscal 2006 to fiscal 2009, compared to the OIG workforce's 6 percent increase. Every year since 2009, Edwards' internal request for 50 more investigators has failed to make the president's budget proposal, he said.

Meanwhile, the OIG's 219 criminal investigators have faced a 95 percent increase in complaints against CBP employees since fiscal 2004. That includes a 25 percent increase just from fiscal 2010 to 2011.

Additionally, OIG has initiated 90 percent more investigations involving CBP officials since 2004, according to figures that Edwards provided to the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on government organization, efficiency and financial management.

Those increases stem from CBP's increased workforce only in part. David Aguilar, CBP's acting commissioner, told the subcommittee they're also a sign of CBP's success securing the border.

Criminals "can no longer go around us, below us, over us, because we're in the water, we're in the air...now they come at us, directly towards our employees, trying to corrupt us," Aguilar said.

Corruption investigations tend to be complex and can take a long time, Edwards noted.

To ease the workload, Edwards and the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreed in April to transfer 370 OIG cases involving CBP and ICE employees to ICE's office of professional responsibility.

ICE has since transferred about one-third of the cases to CBP's office of internal affairs and closed about 60 cases.

Because OIG has oversight of DHS components, it requires periodic reports about the status of the transferred cases.

Subcommittee Chairman Todd Platts (R-Penn.) noted his concern that when an agency investigates its own cases, there may appear to be a conflict of interest. He urged the officials to emphasize internal controls.

Despite the increased workload, no case is being unattended or pending investigation. "We have this under control," Edwards said.

While the OIG technically has 1,591 open investigations as of July 15, Edwards said that figure is misleading.

His office still classifies cases as open after a U.S. Attorney's office accepts them for prosecution. Criminal cases can stay open for years through prosecution, sentencing and appeals.

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage (prepared testimonies and webcast available)

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