The latest personnel figures for the Department of Homeland Security show that the nation's third largest cabinet level agency is still in flux.
As of December 2003, customs criminal investigators formerly in DHS's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency were transferred to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, leaving customs inspection personnel in CBP. CBP also acquired immigration inspectors and border patrol agents formerly in ICE.
The latest re-shuffling means that customs enforcement -- once the province of a single agency (U.S. Customs Service) -- is now divided between two major DHS agencies -- CBP and ICE. See DHS organizational chart.
Customs Staffing Trends Vary by Occupation
Since the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security in March of 2003, fulltime customs inspectors have grown from 8,623 to 10,832 as of March of 2004 -- an increase of 26 percent. See chart.
This growth rate for customs inspectors is among the sharpest staffing increases of any key DHS enforcement area. For example, during this same period, fulltime immigration inspectors and border patrol agents each grew by only 10 percent, while safety technicians (airport screeners) actually fell. [Fulltime screeners fell by 26 percent while parttime screeners were down by 4 percent between March 2003 and March 2004.]
These differential growth rates in staffing are one indicator of the priority which has been given in allocating new personnel to cover the movement of goods (customs inspectors) over that of people (immigration inspectors and border patrol agents).
In contrast, the number of criminal investigators has barely increased. When DHS was first established in March of 2003, there were 4,762 fulltime criminal investigators for customs and immigration. The latest figures available as of March 2004 show that this has only grown by 1 percent -- to 4,827 fulltime investigators.
[Since criminal investigators covering customs duties have been consolidated with those that handle immigration matters, only combined totals are now reported.]
9/11/01 Impact on Customs Criminal Prosecutions So Far Appears Negligible
Since 9/11/01, the enforcement activities of some of the major investigative agencies such as the FBI and INS have undergone considerable change. Curiously, however, when it comes to the agency directly responsible for enforcing the nation's customs laws, this has mostly not been the case.
Although the U.S. Customs Service was moved from within the Treasury Department to the Department of Homeland Security, the day-to-day work record of the criminal investigators assigned to customs matters in the post- 9/11/01 years is strikingly similar to that in the period immediately before the attacks.
The relative stability of customs enforcement from FY 1999 through the first quarter of FY 2004 strongly contrasts with the trends for the agency in the late-1980's and most of the nineties when its prosecutions, convictions, etc. moved sharply higher, driven mostly by a heavy new emphasis in the drug area. Although the intense focus on drugs has not been abandoned in the post 9/11 period, the overall enforcement effort has stabilized.
Here are some counts:
In FY 1999, customs was credited with 6,605 convictions of all kinds. The FY 2003 number was essentially unchanged, 6,752. During the first 3 months of FY 2004 convictions were off slightly at only 1,354 (or an effective annualized rate of 5,416).
Now, as then, a very large chunk of the agency's convictions involved drug matters, 5,729 in FY 1999, 6,123 in FY 2003.
Internal security and terrorism, when it comes to enforcement actions, has remained only a tiny fraction of the agency's workload, 43 of the 6,752 convictions credited to the agency in FY 2003. (In FY 2002 there were 17 such actions.)
In the years before 9/11, the criminal enforcement by Customs was heavily focused on the border with Mexico and the southern end of Florida. Although terrorism is a potential threat on any border, the geographic focus has hardly changed. In FY 2003, for example, two out of three convictions were recorded in California South (San Diego), Texas West (San Antonio), Arizona (Phoenix), New Mexico, (Albuquerque), Texas South (Houston) and Florida South (Miami).