The Homeland Security Hiring Surge Trump and Republicans Aren't Supporting

David J. Phillip/AP

The Trump administration has prioritized hiring at the Homeland Security Department, but at one DHS component administration officials and Republican lawmakers are looking to roll back the ambitious goals previously laid out by President Obama.

The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday was expected to approve a DHS spending bill that would provide $100 million for the Border Patrol to hire 500 new agents and $186.5 million for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to boost its ranks by 1,000 officers next year. Trump prioritized staff augmentation at both agencies in early executive orders and in his fiscal 2018 budget proposal. The spending bill did not, however, propose any hiring surge for Customs and Border Protection officers staffing ports of entry.

In 2016, Obama administration officials testified to Congress and CBP workforce models suggested the agency needed 2,100 new customs officers. That figure was on top of the 2,000 officers Congress had authorized in a fiscal 2014 omnibus spending bill, positions the agency has struggled to fill. Republicans defended the lack of funding by noting the spending restrictions in place due to the 2011 Budget Control Act, while suggesting the measure was not yet final.

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“The bill is limited by the overall funding caps and hard decisions had to be made,” said a Republican appropriations aide. “It already prioritizes CBP and provides an increase of 500 agents,” the aide noted, alluding to the Border Patrol hiring. The aide added, “This is an open process, and members will have further opportunities to shape the bill as it moves forward.”

Trump’s budget had called for an increase of just 63 CBP officers to support National Targeting Center operations. For now, said Jennifer Gabris, a CBP spokeswoman, the agency is focusing on filling the 1,400 positions still vacant from hiring authorized in 2014.

“While workload assessments indicate that additional staffing at ports of entry are needed,” Gabris said, “CBP acknowledges that it needs to fill current vacancies before requesting appropriated funds for additional positions from Congress."

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employee Union, sent a letter to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., who chairs the appropriations committee, to request the panel tweak the bill before the full House votes on it to include funding to support more CBP officers. CBP has been “chronically understaffed at the ports for years,” Reardon said, calling the workforce shortage “staggering” and a major blow to the private sector.

“Understaffed ports lead to long delays in passenger and commercial lanes as travelers and cargo wait to enter the U.S.,” Reardon said. “These delays result in real losses to the U.S. economy.”

The DHS hiring that would be authorized in the fiscal 2018 spending measure would be a down payment on the surge Trump has suggested. He has called for a total of 5,000 new Border Patrol agents and 10,000 ICE officers, goals for which the agencies are developing hiring plans. Democrats have balked at the proposals, saying they do not support building up a “deportation force.” 

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