War on Drugs

Customs and Border Patrol Wants to Get Rid of Hiring Polygraphs Because of How Many Applicants Use Drugs

60 percent of CBP applicants can't pass the hiring polygraph.


Ether? Never heard of her.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has 1,800 unfilled positions, and President Trump wants the agency to hire an additional 5,000 employees over five years. But there's a problem, according to the Wall Street Journal: 60 percent of CPB applicants can't pass the agency's polygraph test.

While none of the Journal's sources knew exactly why so many people who want to work for CPB end up lying during interviews, several sources suggested "it was likely because applicants were untruthful about past drug use, even though that doesn't automatically disqualify them from being hired."

The polygraph was instituted in 2010 after a series of corruption prosecutions involving CPB employees. Now that it's clearly impeding the agency from realizing a neck-stomping vision of an impenetrable border, what should the agency do? "Is there a way," Rep. Martha McSally (R., Ariz.) said to the Journal, "for us to make sure we're upholding the standards—we all want to make sure there is no corruption—but a way to provide some common sense?"

Officials in and around CPB are considering an easier polygraph test, exempting applicants with military and law enforcement backgrounds, and even doing away with the polygraph altogether (ICE doesn't have one, and now they're getting all the good people). How making it easier for nominal lawbreakers to land federal law enforcement jobs comports with Trump's pledge to reduce corruption in the federal workforce is a fair question in want of a president coherent enough to answer it.

What's really odd about the Journal's piece is that no one–not a single person!–acknowledges the possibility that the hiring problem is bigger than nervous nellies lying about their weed (maybe meth) habits. Last December, The New York Times obtained records revealing that over 200 DHS employees were known by the agency to have received $15 million in bribes to make investigations go away, provide intelligence to drug cartels, and sell immigration documents, among other things. Again, those were the cases the department knew about and this was six years after passage of the Anti-Border Corruption Act of 2010. The FBI, meanwhile, can't seem to find good hackers who don't blaze.

Is there a way to both eradicate corruption and fill federal positions with the best people? No, not when the incentives driving corruption and deterring candidates are so closely tied to our crappy drug and immigration laws.

And I wouldn't be doing this topic justice if I didn't also encourage you to watch Reason.tv's episode on the criminal penalties for teaching people how to beat a polygraph: