Report: 'Climate of Fear' at DHS Must End

June 30, 2005
A new report by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) alleges that homeland security is threatened by management problems in the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The report, "One Face at the Border: Behind the Slogan," highlights several areas of concern and suggests remedies that include better communication with employees.

The One Face at the Border program, a personnel realignment effort at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has taken the responsibilities previously handled by inspectors with three different areas of expertise – immigration, customs and agricultural products – and rolled them into a single position called a CBP officer. Consequently, among the problems found by MPI policy analyst Deborah Waller Meyers, was an inadequate level of expertise on immigration issues at the nation's ports of entry. CBP officers who came to DHS from the legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) have long voiced concerns about inadequate cross-training among the officers from the three different disciplines.

Meyers also cites a "climate of fear among employees" due to job insecurity and fears of retaliation for voicing operational concerns. The MPI researcher attributes this counterproductive climate to a number of factors, including unease in the workforce about the new DHS personnel system, which includes a "pay-for-performance" system that employees claim pits them against each other for compensation.

"Now that an institution with the prestige of the Migration Policy Institute has blown the whistle on these management issues within Customs and Border Protection, perhaps our friends on Capitol Hill will take notice," said Charles Showalter, president of the AFGE National Homeland Security Council, which represents CBP officers. "Our officers take their mission seriously, and want to do the best possible job for the American people. But that's hard to do in a climate of fear and in a culture where transparency is hard to find."

In addition, said Showalter, CBP officiers "can't even get the full range of training they need to do their jobs properly."

Among the recommendations in "One Face at the Border: Behind the Slogan," MPI says CBP should:

  • Develop a new agency culture that values its employees and transparency.
  • Keep its employees better informed and enhance mechanisms for employee feedback.
  • Resolve the outstanding personnel-related issues relating to the merger, including union representation. Fair and consistent pay, work, training and promotion opportunities under one set of rules should ameliorate concerns about job security and facilitate an integrated workforce.
  • Proactively address the climate of fear among employees, ensuring that those who speak out appropriately in the name of security are supported rather than suppressed.
  • Build a culture of transparency, including evaluations that are publicly accessible for input and review.
  • Exercise greater caution about public statements regarding the benefits of the One Face at the Border program so as not to create unrealistic expectations.

The entire report can be found at

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