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Homeland Security suspends some hiring

From Mike M. Ahlers
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Department of Homeland Security has temporarily stopped hiring employees for two of its main divisions as it seeks to find out if it is facing a large budget shortfall or simply having problems reconciling the books after the largest government merger in history.

Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary of border and transportation security, ordered what's being characterized as the "temporary hold on new hires" Tuesday, a DHS spokesman said.

The hold applies to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which has about 40,000 employees, and to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which has about 20,000.

Both of the organizations have a major presence along the borders and at airports and other ports of entry.

The hiring suspension will not affect the recently announced Arizona Border Control initiative, which calls for adding 200 border patrol officers along the Mexican border by June 1, an official said.

A department spokesman said the problem came to light during a midyear budget review.

Using current spending figures, budget analysts projected large budget deficits by the end of the fiscal year.

The spokesman declined to specify the amount of the projected deficits, saying that different methods resulted in different projections. But the Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the potential shortfall is $1.2 billion.

A spokesman said, however, that the department is uncertain whether the projected deficits are real, or if they are merely accounting problems resulting from the merger of different financial systems.

Hutchinson ordered the temporary halt in hiring because analysts could not give him assurances that the problem was simply an accounting problem, the spokesman said.

"No one can tell him for certain, and that's the issue here," according to the spokesman.

When the Department of Homeland Security was born in March 2003, bringing together 22 government agencies, it had to cope with 15 different financial systems.

That number has since been whittled to three.

The official said the hiring halt is not a "freeze": Employees will continue to be re-assigned within the department, and promotions will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, criticized the hiring halt. "For a nation in the terrorist bull's-eye, for an administration constantly crowing about homeland security, this simply can't happen," Maloney said in a written statement.

"Let the record show that this administration has spared no expense to open new firehouses in Iraq, but won't even keep our Department of Homeland Security solvent."


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