Border Patrol to expedite training for Spanish speakers

Border Patrol units patrol the Rio Grande River. Border Patrol units patrol the Rio Grande River. James Tourtellotte/CBP
Starting this October, Spanish-speaking Border Patrol recruits will spend less time in training, witnesses told members of a House subcommittee at a hearing Tuesday.

To get agents in the field faster, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will administer a Spanish language proficiency test to all trainees entering the Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, N.M. Those who pass will be able to skip the language component of basic training, allowing them to enter the field approximately 30 days earlier than non-Spanish speakers, said Richard Stana, director of homeland security and justice issues at the Government Accountability Office, in testimony before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Investigations and Oversight.

The move will help the Border Patrol meet President Bush's goal of adding 6,000 agents by December 2008, a goal Border Patrol Academy Chief Charlie Whitmire said was entirely feasible.

Stana noted that Border Patrol officials have told him nearly half of their recruits are fluent in Spanish. "If your facilities are strained, it really doesn't make sense to keep people there longer than they need to be to take Spanish language training that they don't need," he said in an interview after the hearing.

The new policy will not detract from Spanish speakers' law enforcement training at the academy. "All current curriculum hours remain exactly the same," Whitmire said. "Not one hour is deleted from our current law enforcement curriculum - only Spanish is removed from that curriculum and taught separately."

While the implementation of the proficiency test will undoubtedly clear up space in the academy and get agents in the field faster, several witnesses questioned whether this was an unequivocally positive development.

Stana expressed concern about the Border Patrol's ability to train and mentor new agents once they reach the field.

"The real concern I have is how many experienced agents are going to be there to show them the ropes, to train them in what it takes to be a Border Patrol agent so you don't have these ethics gaps, so they do their job safely," Stana said after the hearing. "Right now in some of the busier sectors of the Southwest border, the experienced people only have a year and a half or two years, so you have rookies training rookies. That's worrisome."

According to several witnesses, in-the-field training goes beyond basics like firearms and apprehension techniques; the presence of a mentor and supervisor is crucial to prevent corruption.

"Every major police department that has undergone even less ambitious recruitment campaigns has suffered the consequence," said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council of the American Federation of Government Employees. "Corruption has increased, officers have been poorly trained and the level of confidence the public has in that department has decreased dramatically. I don't want to see the same thing to happen in the United States Border Patrol."

According to Stana, U.S. intelligence reports indicate that drug cartels are attempting to recruit people with clean records to apply to the Border Patrol. He said he fears that a surge of new agents in the field could mean some with bad intentions would slip through the cracks.

"What we've seen in past ramp-ups like this is we get a few bad apples in the Border Patrol corps, and if we don't have the proper supervision to identify these bad apples and get them out of that barrel as soon as we can, we're going to get ourselves into trouble," Stana said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.