Homeland Security Lacks Reliable Data on Misconduct at Key Agencies

Of three agencies GAO reviewed, it found that TSA had the most misconduct cases, with more than 45,000 over three years. Of three agencies GAO reviewed, it found that TSA had the most misconduct cases, with more than 45,000 over three years. Carolina K. Smith MD/Shutterstock.com

It is critical that the Homeland Security Department do a better job of tracking conduct lapses among the more than 100,000 employees at three key agencies—Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Transportation Security Administration—a watchdog reported this week.

Allegations of misconduct range from improperly detaining suspects to misreporting work hours and just plain rude behavior.

Because the number of misconduct reports at the three agencies is so high—68,711 from fiscal 2014 through 2016—managers need to better document infractions and management’s responses, the report released on Thursday by the Government Accountability Office found.

The frequency and nature of the misconduct differs among CBP, ICE and TSA, auditors noted. But “it is important that the processes they use have internal controls to ensure quality and independence, the data in the management system is complete and reliable, and cases are processed in a timely manner according to established performance targets.”

TSA had the most cases, with more than 45,000 over three years, while ICE had the fewest.

None of the three agencies “consistently document key control activities each considers important to ensuring the quality and independence of the process,” and guidance is lacking on such internal control activities such as when a legal review occurs, GAO found.

Auditors concluded that “more than half of CBP and more than two-thirds of ICE misconduct cases resulted in no action or were not referred for adjudication because they were unsubstantiated or for other reasons, such as the employee under investigation retired or resigned."

Improving guidance on how to consistently document key control activities, such as when legal review occurs, would give managers valuable insight into whether their processes mitigate associated risk, GAO recommended.

The three agencies receive allegations of employee misconduct from the general public, agency staff and the DHS inspector general. At the Border Patrol, the reports might describe an agent not following procedures for managing government-issued property; at ICE, it could involve an officer violating policy on detaining individuals; at TSA, the misconduct is apt to involve an employee not reporting his or her time and attendance accurately.

All three agencies have flagged “timeliness of case resolution as a performance goal and have taken some steps to establish performance targets and monitor the timeliness of certain stages of misconduct cases,” GAO noted after a review of random cases.

The review was requested by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa.

GAO made 18 recommendations to the three agency heads. They included revising guidance to ensure that case management systems contain proper documentation on legal or supervisory reviews of complaints; modifying the agencies’ annual self-inspection programs; and better monitoring of case duration, by type of misconduct.

Homeland Security officials agreed with all the recommendations.

Image via Carolina K. Smith MD/Shutterstock.com

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