Magazine article Insight on the News

Customs House in Need of Cleaning. (Waste & Abuse)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Customs House in Need of Cleaning. (Waste & Abuse)

Article excerpt

Tick them off -- bribery, smuggling, theft, conspiracy, assault -- and you have a litany of corruptions that Americans long have associated with life in the badlands south of the U.S.-Mexico border. But increasingly, driven by drug dealing and dollars, similar kinds of corruption also are being found north of that 2,000-mile boundary, perpetrated by our homegrown version of the dreaded federales, who sometimes wear the badges of the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs Service or U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS.

All three have been racked by an upswing in corruption cases in recent years. But the Customs Service has come in for special scrutiny lately, following a report from the General Accounting Office, or GAO, another by the Department of Treasury's Inspector General and a series of Senate Finance Committee oversight heatings that, while not dwelling exclusively on the negatives, hardly could avoid them altogether.

After reviewing 28 convictions of INS and Customs employees for drug-related corruption between 1992 and 1997, GAO in part blamed the rot on the slowness of both agencies to respond to the growing threat, as well as the lack of serious attention they paid to integrity procedures, background reinvestigations and training. Then, several weeks ago, Treasury's inspector general reported that Customs' internal-affairs office failed to consistently investigate complaints and lacked proper supervisory review. When misconduct was substantiated, "disciplinary penalties were inconsistently applied," often due to cronyism, according to the report. This caused fear of reprisal in officers who considered making allegations against colleagues. Internal-affairs officers at Customs referred only 53 percent of such allegations to management for review. …

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