A dispute has broken out between the Department of Homeland Security and unions representing Border Patrol workers and immigration officers after the publication of a survey that found that most employees believe they have not been given sufficient resources, training and support to fight terrorism.
The survey was commissioned by two labor organizations, the National Homeland Security Council and the National Border Patrol Council, together with the American Federation of Government Employees. It consisted of telephone interviews with 250 Border Patrol agents and 250 Bureau of Customs and Border Protection inspectors.
Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said they were somewhat or not really satisfied with the "tools, training and support" they have for dealing with terrorist threats. Sixty-two percent said Homeland Security could do more to protect the country from terrorist attacks, with two in five believing the department could do "a lot more."
While 77 percent said they had seen a significant shift in their responsibilities since Sept. 11, 2001, 44 percent said they believe the country is no safer today than it was on that date.
Most of those polled cited a recently introduced hiring freeze and proposed new pay systems and personnel regulations as having a negative effect on their ability to accomplish the department's mission, with just under two-thirds reporting low morale among fellow employees.
"The results we are releasing today don't come as a surprise to those of us who work on the borders; however, it should be very disturbing news to most Americans," Charles Showalter, president of the National Homeland Security Council, said at a news conference.
The Department of Homeland Security questioned the methodology used in the survey, contending that the poll was not representative.
"The survey is, in our opinion, inaccurate, biased and agenda-driven," said Christiana Halsey, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. "They did not survey a large enough pool to create an accurate picture. We are an agency of nearly 42,000 employees. They only interviewed 500 people for this survey."
Halsey added that those polled were all union members. "They did not survey a good sampling of the workforce. That throws the idea of a balanced survey out the window," she said.
Responding to the finding that most of those questioned believe the department could do better, she said: "We don't disagree with that. That's why we are continuing to assess and look at areas of weaknesses and create programs, initiatives and partnerships to confront those weaknesses. We will continue to evolve to address the terrorist threat.
"The findings do cause concern," Halsey said, "but in the sense that it is disheartening that they would release a survey that misinforms the workforce about what is being done at a time of increased risk when we need employees to focus on their priority mission of antiterrorism."
T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said the department failed to acknowledge the concerns raised in the survey.
"They are just trying to obfuscate by choosing to focus on the methodology used in this survey rather than the strong feelings of their workers and the real issues they face," he said. "They are just burying their heads in the sand."
Geoffrey Garin, president of Peter D. Hart Research Associates, the firm that carried out the poll, defended the findings.
"My guess is that this is more about the department not liking the results more than anything else," he said. "I would be happy to administer the survey amongst the remaining employees. My suspicion is that the results would be the same."