DHS could be overestimating costs of new border agents

The Homeland Security Department could be overestimating the cost of hiring Customs and Border Protection agents, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released on Monday.

"Overestimating cost items could result in CBP requesting more funding than needed for new agents, while underestimating cost items could result in CBP using current operating funds for new agent costs, thereby reducing funds available for current operations," said Richard Stana, director for homeland security and justice issues at GAO, in a report to Reps. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla.

CBP anticipates it will cost $170,360 to recruit, hire, train, equip and ultimately deploy each agent it hires in fiscal 2010, up from $159,642 in fiscal 2009. But when GAO auditors analyzed the 93 items CBP used to arrive at the 2009 estimate, they could not validate the prices the bureau assigned to 12 items, accounting for 43 percent of 2009 costs.

Significantly, Stana wrote, bureau officials estimated a locality pay rate of 16.23 percent for CBP officers hired in fiscal 2009. That percentage was drawn from high-cost cities such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco rather than less expensive Southwestern cities where new border agents are more likely to be stationed, GAO noted. CBP officials told the watchdog agency that they used the higher locality pay rate because they anticipated that some agents might be deployed to the border between the United States and Canada, where locality pay rates are higher. But the report said locality pay in those northern postings still is lower than the 16.23 percent average CBP used.

Locality pay is important, the report said, because it affects estimates for several categories of overtime and Social Security and Federal Employees Retirement System payments. If CBP had calculated average locality pay for new officers using a 14.1 percent rate, the cost would have been $803 lower per agent, and the overall cost for hiring the 2,200 agents who joined the agency in fiscal 2009 would have been $1.8 million less.

CBP also did not provide documentation for its estimated costs for purchasing and maintaining new vehicles, vehicle equipment and night-vision goggles, or for recruiting new officers, Stana wrote. He also noted CBP did not calculate inflation when assessing the cost of basic training, and relied on faulty assumptions in determining the cost of fitness and medical exams, and drug testing.

Jerald Levine, the director of DHS' Government Accountability Office-Office of Inspector General Liaison Office, expressed concern that the report analyzed cost estimates performed in 2007 using auditing standards GAO released in 2009. In response, Stana wrote that those standards have been established best practices for years.

Regardless of differences, Levine said in his comments that DHS would comply with GAO's recommendations.

"New processes are being developed and will be implemented as part of the annual update to verifying and standardizing costing methodologies," he wrote. "The action plan will include written directives and standard policies to increase reliability."

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:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

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