On July 26, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) conducted an audit of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) polygraph and complaint processes.  The title of the audit is “Most Complaints about CBP’s Polygraph Program Are Ambiguous or Unfounded (OIG-18-68).” The DHS OIG conducted the audit based on the 2010 CBP law enforcement applicant requirement to provide polygraph examination to applicants and to determine whether effective controls exist for the polygraph and complaint processes.

Customs and Border Protection Polygraph Performance and Results

CBP conducts the polygraph in three phases. However, once the three phases are complete, CBP does not consider any polygraph complete until quality control personnel review, concur with, and certify the results.

  • Pre-test interview describing the polygraph instruments and exam, testing the equipment, and familiarizing the applicant to the process.
  • Polygraph Examination screening the applicant with suitability questions covering serious crimes and illegal drug use, and National Security topics.
  • Post-test Interview to review results with the applicants.

During the period of 2013 to 2016, CBP administered exams to 33,000 applicants using the above described process with a 28% pass rate. Interestingly, 26% were disqualified during the pre-test phase after admitting to crimes and adverse behavior.

Scope of the Officer of Inspector General’s audit

The OIG conducted the audit using The National Center for Credibility Assessment (NCCA) standards while reviewing a statistical example of 380 polygraph examinations. The audit’s purpose was to determine whether quality control reviews occurred as intended. During the audit, OIG reviewed 157 complaints and their corresponding audio recordings and cataloged them into three categories.  Of the 157 complaints the results determined that:

  • 130 complaints lacked information or were too vague.
  • 21 complaints were untrue (audio did not substantiate).
  • 6 complaints were backed up by audio recording.

Findings and Recommendations

Though the audit determined that most complaints about CBP’s polygraph program are, indeed, ambiguous or unfounded, that result was not the audit’s intent. DHS OIG made two findings and two recommendations after determining whether quality control reviews occurred as intended.

Findings

DHS OIG made two findings identifying the root cause for review and approval process gaps and lack of consistent formal complaint reviews:

  • A key control over its review and approval process was not always operating as intended.
  • CBP did not have a formal complaint review process, leading to inconsistent and subjective reviews.

Recommendations

DHS OIG made two recommendations and CBP began to implement recommendations immediately. The recommendations and responses are:

Recommendation 1: That the Commissioner of CBP develop additional controls to ensure polygraph quality control reviews comply with federal polygraph standards.

CBP Response: Currently revising policy to ensure quality control reviewers’ responsibility to conduct objective reviews.

Recommendation 2: That the Commissioner of CBP develop and implement a formal policy for the complaint review and response process.

CBP Response: Currently revising policy to define the polygraph review process and the appropriate actions for responding to complaints.

Overall takeaways from the audit

The results of the audit demonstrated that the complaints of the CBP were ambiguous or unfounded and that there were processes and reviews in place to ensure suitability of the applicants. However, regardless of how well CBP was conducting polygraph examinations, CBP risked not finding and addressing issues identified in complaints. While CBP demonstrated controls over its polygraph examination process, review and approval processes did not occur consistently and CBP did not have a formal complaint review process. However, CBP did cooperate with the audit, agreed with audit results, and are implementing DHS OIG recommendations.

 

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Jeffrey W. Bennett is a security consultant with SFPC, SAPPC, ISOC, ISP certifications. He maintains a security blog and newsletter and is the author of many security books including DoD Security Clearance and Contracts Guidebook-What Cleared Contractors Need to Know About Their Need to Know, The Insider’s Guide to Security Clearances, and books on security certification. Visit his website www.redbikepublishing.com for more information.