By LARA JAKES JORDAN
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON- Immigration enforcement agents may be too busy to do their jobs due to a Homeland Security Department glitch that has them reporting to Border Patrol supervisors, the agency's internal watchdog says.A report released this week by Homeland Security Acting Inspector General Richard Skinner came as a key Republican senator renewed calls to merge immigration and border security responsibilities into one office.
At issue is Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who transport illegal immigrants to jail. That responsibility is shared with Customs and Border Protection agents.
But the report found that ICE officers do much of the work and report to Border Patrol supervisors. As a result, the report found, ICE agents "may not meet the basic requirements of their position description."
ICE agents are supposed to primarily investigate, detain and deport illegal immigrants who are in the United States to protect against any terror-related activities.
The problem is particularly evident on the nation's porous southwest border, where hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants enter the country each year.
ICE spokesman Dean Boyd said, "This is one of the organizational issues that has been outstanding that we're working to resolve."
The confusion largely stems from changes made when Homeland Security was created in 2002. The reorganization split up responsibilities once handled by the old Immigration and Naturalization Service, where Border Patrol and ICE agents worked together.
Lawmakers and experts have called for merging the agencies back together, but that was not part of the department's internal restructuring announced last week.
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chair Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she was disappointed but is willing to see whether the restructuring will bring improvements at the two agencies.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff "has acknowledged to me that he's not sure this is the right direction, and he recognizes the very real problems with operations of those two agencies," Collins said.
Skinner, the department's acting inspector general, is expected to issue another report on the merger matter within a month.
Meanwhile, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee raised concerns Tuesday about a contract to revamp the department's personnel system.
In a letter to Chertoff, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., said the three-year contract with Northrop Grumman Information Technology, with costs ranging from $2 million to $175 million, did not ensure efficiency "in executing and overseeing this award."
Homeland Security officials have said the contract to produce the proposed personnel system will help the department "fulfill our mission of protecting the homeland."
A federal judge is reviewing the proposed personnel changes.
On the Net:
Homeland Security Department: http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/