09/07/2007

Company wants to employ private agents for Border Patrol

By David Mclemore
The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS, Texas The Border Patrol runs glossy Web videos and ads during major sporting events. It sponsors a car in NASCAR races all in the hopes of catching the attention of recruits and meeting a deadline to hire and train 6,000 new agents by the end of next year.

DynCorp International has another idea.

The international security contractor would like to hire, train and deploy 1,000 private agents to temporarily augment the Border Patrol's mission along the Mexican border, according to a recent presentation that Robert Rosenkranz, president of government services for DynCorp, gave a House Homeland Security subcommittee.

DynCorp's proposal to train officers on a "contingency basis" a homeland security bill that never got out of committee but may be revived is one of a number of measures by politicians to secure the nation's border and stem the flow of illegal immigration.

And U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., who sponsored the bill, plans to continue pushing it "and others in the near future and hopes Congress will debate them soon as part of a larger effort to help secure borders," said spokeswoman Shea Snider.

Border Patrol officials say that they don't need outside help, thank you, and that they're on track to meet their recruiting goal.

In a rare show of solidarity with management, T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents about 12,000 agents, called DynCorp's proposal a bad idea, saying it would create a two-tier system for leadership and pay that could be disastrous.

Mr. Bonner also said he has a problem with a company that earlier in the year was recruiting among the Border Patrol for a State Department contract to train border guards in Iraq.

"First, they come around, stripping the border of agents, then try to sell us a private border security force," said Mr. Bonner.

DynCorp's recruitment drive angered Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who subsequently sent a protest letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

DynCorp spokesman Gregory Lagana said the timing was "problematic," but he stressed that the firm never sought to raid the Border Patrol. Fifty-three people were eventually hired for the Iraq training mission but only about a fourth of them were active Border Patrol agents, he said.

"In fact, the Border Patrol was already providing for 180-day assignments to Iraq for training missions," Mr. Lagana said. "We were never trying to rob the Border Patrol."

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, a subcommittee member who voted for the bill, takes the proposal very seriously, said his spokesman, Jack Hirschfield.

"Congressman McCaul sees it as a great way to get more boots on the ground at the border very quickly," Mr. Hirschfield. "It's very cost-effective, given the length of time it takes for Border Patrol to train people and get them into the field."

James Jay Carafano, an authority on homeland security for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research center, said the proposal is worth exploring.

"I'm not saying we should outsource the Border Patrol," Dr. Carafano said, "but this is a good, practical solution that would add efficiency and flexibility to meeting law enforcement needs."

Lots of questions

But others say the proposal raises too many questions.

"From a political perspective, if we privatize a basic function of government such as border protection, it questions our view of territorial sovereignty and how we want government to work," said Rey Koslowski, director of border control and homeland security at the Center for Policy Research at the University of Albany in New York. "Why create a private border force? Why not just federalize them? Or put the resources to create private border agents into training more Border Patrol agents?"

DynCorp officials are quick to counter that their intent is not to privatize the Border Patrol or create a group of mercenaries along the border.

"We would simply recruit trained law enforcement officers to work for the Border Patrol on a strict contingency basis," said Mr. Lagana. "We see it as a kind of surge for the Border Patrol."

DynCorp, which has deployed more than 5,000 civilian private security forces and police trainers to Iraq, Afghanistan and nine other countries for the State Department, came under fire this year after federal auditors cited the Virginia-based company for vague invoices that left millions of dollars in weapons and equipment in Iraq unaccounted for.

The company has maintained that it acted responsibly and "with concern for the expenditure of public funds," Mr. Lagana has said.

In his presentation to the House subcommittee, Mr. Rosenkranz stressed DynCorp's experience in recruiting, training and equipping law enforcement personnel for security work in such hot spots as Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Liberia.

DynCorp did not specify the pay for the proposed private border force, though Mr. Rosenkranz said first-year costs per agent would be about $197,000, including salary, benefits and one-time costs for recruiting, training and screening.

A newly minted U.S. Border Patrol agent makes about $35,000 a year, and an experienced agent earns about $55,000.

Any such private force would be fully under the command of Border Patrol officials and would follow federal procedures for arrest and detention, Mr. Lagana said.

As the Border Patrol brings its new agents on duty, the private force could be let go as their contracts expire.

"We just feel that without experience, we could provide a professional police force that would augment the Border Patrol as it builds up its strength," Mr. Lagana said.

But Mr. Bonner said the Border Patrol Council has problems with a proposal that "creates two classes of agents who are trained differently and are paid differently but are responsible for the same mission."

The Border Patrol is unique in law enforcement, Mr. Bonner said.

"We enforce a set of complex immigration laws while also being the first line in border security and anti-terrorism," he said. "It's not a military mission, and it's not classic police work. Other law enforcement officers see what we do and think we're nuts."

Revving up recruiting

But Border Patrol officials would just as soon keep border enforcement a federal job.

"As long as we've been around, since 1924, we've found the best way to train Border Patrol agents is with other Border Patrol agents," said spokesman Lloyd Easterly. "We're the experts on border security, and we know what works and what doesn't."

Thanks to stepped-up recruiting efforts that include a massive national campaign, the Border Patrol is on track to meet its presidential mandate of hiring 6,000 new agents, Agent Easterly said.

On May 11, the Border Patrol made its NASCAR debut at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina with the No. 28 Chevy in partnership with Jay Robinson Racing and part of a 25-race sponsorship for the remainder of the 2007 NASCAR Busch Series season.

Officials at Customs and Border Protection, the parent agency of the Border Patrol, see the $1 million sponsorship as a way to raise awareness of the Border Patrol to a national audience, as well as a major recruiting tool.

"Car No. 28 represents what CBP Border Patrol is attempting to do with its hiring and recruiting efforts," said Customs and Border Commissioner W. Ralph Basham. "It is fast, diligent and precise. This partnership is exactly what we needed to rev our recruiting and hiring into high gear."

The last scheduled appearance for the agency's car will be Nov. 3 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

In addition to its intensified recruiting, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection is sending out twice the number of newly graduated agents to southern border sectors then it did last year. Training has been shortened from 91 days to 81 days.

Copyrignt 2007 The Dallad Morning News

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