Report: Conflicts Strain Border Security

WASHINGTON -- Conflicts between the federal agencies responsible for border protection and immigration have undercut investigations and strained border security, says a draft Department of Homeland Security report that recommends they be merged.

A version of the report by the department's Office of the Inspector General, obtained by The Associated Press, details conflicts between two Homeland Security agencies - Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The report contends they too frequently compete for resources and work against each other.

"DHS' border enforcement role is simply too important to permit the degree of dysfunction spawned by the current organizational structure to continue," the report concludes. "Some structural change is in order."

The draft report is just the latest to call for a merger between the two agencies despite a decision by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that they should remain separate.

The report is still being amended, although copies have been circulated on Capitol Hill. A final version is expected later this month.

Homeland Security officials say it is not an accurate picture of the agencies, which they say have made significant progress on immigration and border enforcement.

The report highlights several problems:

-A lack of resources and coordination, straining Immigration and Customs Enforcement's ability to follow through on captures made by Customs and Border Protection.

-Problems, including competition and mistrust, that are leading Customs and Border Protection to refer cases to agencies other than ICE, which may also have contributed to a decline in arrests, convictions and seizures by ICE.

-The two agencies work almost independently when developing intelligence, creating a growing division, which investigators believe could lead to bigger problems later.

"It is difficult to quantify the extent to which the border security mission has been downgraded as a result of the current organizational structure," the report reads. But based on what investigators learned in interviews with employees, "We believe the present organizational structure cannot adequately support the nation's border security needs."

Even if customs and immigration aren't merged, the inspector general says the problems investigators encountered must be addressed.

Officials with both agencies and Homeland Security say that contrary to the report's findings, they have actually increased the number of apprehensions and detentions of illegal immigrants and drug seizures in recent years.

"We believe the draft report is fundamentally flawed in very critical ways, relying upon inaccurate data, outdated information, and anecdotal testimonies," said Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke.

A call to the inspector general's office was not returned.

The effect the report will have in Congress is unclear. Lawmakers have talked recently about merging the agencies.

Both immigration and customs are without permanent leaders.

Customs and Border Protection chief Robert Bonner announced his resignation last week. And questions have been raised about whether Julie Myers, President Bush's nominee to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has enough experience. A Senate committee is expected to vote on her appointment Friday.

Rep. Michael Rogers, R-Ala., chairman of a House Homeland Security subcommittee, has said he is interested in the idea of a merger. The issue "remains very much under consideration," said his spokesman, Marshall Macomber.

(c) 2005 Associated Press

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