Customs and border chief faces scrutiny over household staff

Senate Finance Committee staff reported late Wednesday that Alan Bersin, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, misrepresented the number of household staff he employed and failed to properly document his employees' eligibility to work in the United States.

In September 2009, President Obama nominated Bersin, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California during the Clinton administration, to lead CBP. On March 27, Obama appointed Bersin to the post during a congressional recess and resubmitted his nomination to the Senate on April 21. The committee plans to hold a hearing on the nomination on Thursday.

The Senate must confirm Bersin's nomination if he is to stay in the job beyond 2011.

At issue is whether Bersin complied with legal requirements to complete and retain I-9 employment verification forms for employees and whether he was candid in his responses to the Finance Committee regarding the status of individuals who worked for him.

CBP enforces border security and immigration laws. "The committee routinely applies greater scrutiny to a nominee's activities that bear a relationship to the duties of the position the nominee seeks," the committee staff wrote in a memo.

The Finance Committee reviewed Bersin's tax returns for 2006 through 2008 and his financial disclosure statements.

According to the memo, Bersin said he had a Form I-9 for his nanny when first interviewed in August 2009. When asked about that later, in writing, he responded, "If I stated that Ms. S had an I-9 in August 2009, then I misspoke and apologize for any misunderstanding." A form dated Nov. 12, 2009, was subsequently provided to the committee.

In addition, the committee determined that Bersin employed 10 individuals since 1993, six of them during the period covered by the review; however, Bersin at first identified only three employees. He acknowledged the additional employees during his due diligence meeting with the committee on March 17.

"Mr. Bersin stated that all employees were legally authorized to work in the United States, and copies of the identification documents provided to the committee confirm this statement for the three employees initially identified by Mr. Bersin on Nov. 13, 2009," the memo said.

The committee did not request, nor did Bersin provide, documentation for the other employees.

"The committee has no indication that these individuals were not legally authorized to work in the United States," the memo said.

Bersin's wife, Lisa Foster, told the committee that she reviewed identification documents, such as Social Security cards, passports and drivers' licenses, at the time the employees were hired, and told the committee it didn't occur to her to obtain I-9s.

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