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DHS says that 2,300, or early 20% of applicants, were administered polygraph exams

CBP plans to hire an additional 5,000 border patrol agents

Washington CNN —  

Customs and Border Protection spent millions of taxpayer dollars in recent years on polygraph exams for job applicants who admitted to disqualifying criminal acts or drug use on their applications or pre-polygraph interviews, according to a review by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.

Auditors analyzed 380 polygraph exams administered from 2013-2016 and found nearly one fifth of the applicants were given lie-detector tests even though they had already admitted to disqualifying activities, including “illegal drug use, drug smuggling, human trafficking, and … having close personal relationships with people who commit such crimes,” the inspector general’s office said in a statement announcing the report.

During the three-year period, the CBP’s own data shows the agency administered lie detector tests – sometimes multiple tests – to 2,300 applicants even though they had already admitted to crimes or drug use that should have disqualified them from being hired, the IG report found.

At a taxpayer cost of $2,200 per test, according to the IG, that amounts to more than $5 million spent on polygraph tests on people who were already known to be unsuitable for hiring.

The CBP administered tests to applicants who, for example, had admitted to committing serious crimes or using illegal drugs – both of which would prevent someone from being eligible for employment as a CBP officer – within the past two years, according to the report.

In one pre-polygraph interview, an applicant “admitted to participating in the gang rape of an intoxicated and unconscious woman,” according to the IG’s report. “The examiner obtained a written statement in the pre-test yet continued with the exam for five hours after the admission.”

In response to the report, the CBP said in a statement to CNN that it “continues to strive for an effective hiring process to meet staffing demands.”

The CBP said it considers “mitigating factors” and uses a “whole person concept” when considering applicants. Many variables are taken into account, including, for example, the seriousness and frequency of the conduct and the age and maturity of the applicant at the time of the conduct in question, the agency said.

The CBP also took issue with some of the figures in the report, namely the 2,300 applicants who were administered tests despite having admitted to disqualifying behavior. The agency argued that figure may be an overstatement, saying most of the cases the IG looked at “lacked sufficient information to make a suitability determination prior to polygraph testing when using the ‘whole person concept.’” In other words, at the time of the polygraph, CBP says it may not have enough information to disqualify a candidate.

The costly and time-consuming process of giving polygraph tests to applicants who likely should have been disqualified comes at a crucial time, as CBP struggles to meet President Donald Trump’s mandate of beefing up its ranks.

“Given its plans to hire 5,000 additional Border Patrol Agents, it is important that CBP focus its resources on the most qualified and suitable applicants,” said Inspector General John Roth.

The CBP argues that while weeding out applicants before taking a polygraph might appear to save money, it could actually add time to the hiring process. The agency said that removing an applicant for a failed polygraph exam is oftentimes done more quickly than removing them for admitting to disqualifying activity because in the latter case the applicant is first allowed due process, which can extend for weeks.

Roth did credit the CBP with implementing one of his recommendations: that the agency immediately contact on-call adjudicators when an applicant admits wrongdoing.

The CBP said in its statement, “Effective June 2017, all polygraph examiners were notified that they are required to use on-call adjudicators when potentially disqualifying information is received at any time during the polygraph examination process to seek guidance regarding whether testing should continue or should be halted.”

Roth said this move has improved efficiency.

CNN’s Daniella Diaz contributed to this report.