Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 17, 2006

CBP-ICE merger: is it too late?

Filed under: DHS News,Organizational Issues — by Christian Beckner on May 17, 2006

The House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing last week on the persistent issue of a merger between Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). GovExec reported on the hearing in this article, and the prepared testimony from Stewart Baker, Julie Myers, Deborah Spero, Seth Stodder, T.J. Bonner, and Arthur Gordon is available by clicking on any of their names.

I’ve written about this issue previously, coming down in favor of the proposal to merge CBP and ICE, for many of the reasons outlined in the testimony by former CBP senior policy advisor Seth Stodder. But Seth admits what is undoubtably true: that this would be harder to do today than 1 or 2 years ago, because so much time has already passed:

Concluding that the original split of INS and Customs and their reconstitution into CBP and ICE was a mistake does not answer the question posed by this Committee, however. The reality is that the split has happened, and CBP and ICE currently exist. The question now becomes whether it is worth the effort to undo the organizational mistake made a few years ago.

The Department of Homeland Security has clearly concluded that it is not. Tellingly, DHS does not defend the original decision to split Customs and INS and re-combine them into CBP and ICE. Deputy Secretary Jackson’s letter responding to the Inspector General’s report of last year does not defend the original decision. Nor did Assistant Secretary Baker’s testimony of last year. Rather, the apparent DHS rationale for not merging CBP and ICE appears to be that it is too late to unbreak the eggs and that the omelet has already been made. In Deputy Secretary Jackson’s words, a merger of CBP and ICE would “yield a protracted period of organizational churn, thus undermining operational effectiveness at CBP, ICE, and the Department at large.”

I can certainly sympathize with Deputy Secretary Jackson’s comment. I lived through the first period of “organizational churn” when DHS made the decision to break up Customs and INS and re-combine them into CBP and ICE.

And it may indeed be true that the benefits associated with creating a single border, immigration, and enforcement agency might not be worth the “organizational churn” associated with combining two currently existing agencies, CBP and ICE. In some sense, DHS might simply have “bigger fish to fry,” as it works on strengthening FEMA, addresses port security issues, and endeavors to strengthen border and immigration enforcement through the Secure Border Initiative, among other things. It may be that the window for organizational tinkering has closed – even to correct obvious mistakes, such as the CBP-ICE split – and it is time to focus on the substance of homeland security and strengthening obvious organizational basket-cases like FEMA. In the meantime, DHS can muddle through with the dysfunctions of having CBP and ICE be separate agencies through coordination mechanisms and a stronger policy apparatus. And we must give significant credit to Secretary Chertoff, Deputy Secretary Jackson, and to the leaders of ICE and CBP for all the great strides they have made.

Maybe at this point it is better to leave well enough alone, and let DHS do its substantive work without the distractions involved with further organizational change.

But Seth comes to the conclusion that this attitude would ultimately be a mistake, and that if we wait any longer, we’ll create a 40-year organizational problem, similar to the problems that plagued DOD between its establishment in 1947 and the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols reforms. I agree. This is one case where the likely benefits of integration are so straight-forward that that I think it’s worth the short-term pain. However, the consensus seems to be shifting in favor of leaving well enough alone, and the current political climate on border security is likely to disfavor risky initiatives with no clear political constituency. I think that eventually this issue will get resolved – but maybe we’re looking now at a target date of 2042.

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6 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 17, 2006 @ 7:21 pm

One of the main problems in managing DHS is a cultural one. Almost 65,000 of its employees are gun and/or badge and/or uniformed and can retire after 20 years of service. That standard is obsolete since the average 45 year old is probably superior physically to the average 35 year old of 40 years ago. The real reorganization should be a bottom up review of who carries guns, wears, badges, and wears uniforms in DHS and whether they should at least be required to serve 25 years before retiring. Perhaps all these gun/badge/uniformed types should be interchangeable like the military to a certain level. Rotational assignments might broaden perspectives.

Comment by JRAY

August 25, 2008 @ 11:04 pm

It is disparaging in the least to see that this issue is on the back burner. As a DHS employee of one of the aforementioned agencies, it is painfully obvious that although coordination between CBP and ICE in SOME areas has improved, the two agencies are moving further and further away from each other with respect to their core missions. Although it is MANDATED by Executive Order and several Memorandums of Understanding between CBP and ICE that ICE, Office of Investigations is the Investigative Arm of CBP, CBP has ignored this mandate began to provide direct services and opened up a “One Stop Shopping” at the border for ALL other investigative agencies like Secret Service, DEA, FDA, FBI for investigative support. More often than not, ICE is not even notified and this has created a fragmented approach to intelligence gathering and border enforcement investigations. Additionally both CBP and ICE maintain separate Intelligence Divisions, Separate Incident Reporting Mechanisms, Separate Communications and Law Enforcement Assistance Centers, and Separate Laboratory support structures and the list goes on. This obvious overlap contributes to double reporting of enforcement statistics, duplicative laboratory and intelligence driven products and confusion among support services such as the NLECC (National Law Enforcement Communications Center) and the LESC (Law Enforcement Support Center). TO add to the confusion, no one in the public or the state, local and federal law enforcement community understands the difference between what CBP and ICE do. The original idea was to create one Uniformed agency at the border (CBP) and one Investigative agency (ICE) to conduct investigations. The bureaucratic wheels and power grabbing for five years have now essentially created two synonymous agencies both with Uniformed officers and now CBP who is vying to create its own Criminal Investigator core has gotten even one step closer with the creation of Internal Affairs investigators. The cost of merging these two agencies pales in comparison to the confusion, and cost of the duplicative functions that have gone awry.

Comment by Peter

October 29, 2008 @ 9:10 pm

ICE & CBP are a disaster. If Congress wanted to refocused immigration issues, it should have created just 2 agencies Bureau of Immigration Enforcement and Citizenship and Immigration Service.

Customs should have been left alone, they don’t mix at all with immigration. This was a horrible idea. I don’t see the logic behind this stupid merge.

Comment by anonymous

December 25, 2008 @ 12:16 am

Many of the issues surrounding both agencies required strong leadership and some basic common sense. For example, ICE should’ve been named “The Border Security Agency” and CBP The ” The Border Protection Service. The point being leaving any reference to Customs or Immigration out of the name. This would have eliminated some of the cultural clashes.

Other sensible approaches should have included early reassignment and equitable assignments for both legacy agencies. This is important for career development and promotional opportunities.

The key action here is professionalism, both CBP and ICE have different functions to perform and both are equally important. It is regretful that CBP will go outside of the DHS for referrals of cases. I’m sure ICE is not short of work to do. This just reflects poorly on both agencies and the DHS. Again, it comes down to leadership on both agencies.

It is very unlikely that any future mergers will occur in my opinion.

Comment by JRay

March 29, 2009 @ 8:57 pm

naming the two agencies border security agency and border protection service does not address the paradigm shift in responsibilities between the two agencies. The cultural problems are from the employees, not the name, and the dysfunction was caused by the poor organizational division of responsibilities, not by the name….if you look at the original Homeland Security Act, the name of the new agency was Border Security Agency and it was a combination between Customs and INS. This very well could have been a threat to the FBI who was concerned the agency would be too powerful and lobbied congress to make the split….among other things….the two agencies almost six years later have re-invented themselves as almost mirror images of each other in many ways and wasting valuable resources and taxpayer money…

Comment by chris

October 26, 2009 @ 8:41 pm

once and for all, end this adbomination and merge the cops and detectives back together before newly minted parochialisms take root…

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