San Diego Union Tribune

August 24, 2004

Survey reports discontent among border personnel


WASHINGTON Most of the front-line federal personnel on the nation's borders "do not believe they have been given the tools to fight terrorism," according to researchers who surveyed 500 Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection inspectors.

Sixty-four percent of those questioned "see the status quo as falling very significantly short of where it should be," said Geoff Garin, whose firm conducted survey by telephone from July 30 to August 7.

Labor leaders representing Border Patrol agents commissioned the survey and yesterday held a news conference to present its results. They argued that the discontent and concerns the survey reflects are a cause for public concern and for increasing enforcement resources at the border.

But the survey was challenged as "inaccurate and biased" by Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Christiana Halsey.

Halsey said nearly half of those identified as discontented had actually classified themselves as "just somewhat satisfied" with the training, tools and support they had been given to confront terrorist threats.

"How do they count 'somewhat satisfied' as a negative?" Halsey asked. "There are a lot of people in the country for whom 'somewhat satisfied' would be really good."

Halsey said the survey was "unfortunate . . . at a time when our work force needs to know that they are appreciated, that their mission is appreciated, and that we are providing them with the knowledge, tools and skills they need to succeed in protecting the country."

T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said the survey went far beyond the issue of anti-terror preparation. It also reported widespread low morale, discontent with training methods, and frustration with tactics used to patrol the border.

Bonner, a 26-year Border Patrol veteran based in San Diego, said the survey documents concerns that government officials have failed to address.

"When we have raised these issues at the top, we have been stonewalled," Bonner said.

Bonner said the tools needed include better vehicles, training in Spanish for new officers and improved access to databases of potential terrorists so agents can run one biometric check that links them to all the information available.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.