Gov. Janet Napolitano is escalating her war of words with federal officials over efforts to recruit Border Patrol officers to go to Iraq, accusing the Bush administration of putting that country’s national interests ahead of the United States’.
In a letter Tuesday, Napolitano and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson chided Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for awarding a contract to Dyn-Corp International. That firm is trying to find 120 people with border patrol experience to help train Iraqis to guard their own frontier.
What concerns the governors is some of those people are being recruited from the U.S. Border Patrol “by tax-free salaries and exorbitant bonuses that dwarf the current compensation they receive from a sister federal agency.”
DynCorp is offering more than $134,000 a year, plus a $25,000 bonus. By contrast, Border Patrol officers in the United States earn $35,000 to $55,000 annually.
DynCorp officials have acknowledged that seven of the first 30 recruits sent overseas were actually active Border Patrol officers at the time.
“This is a short-sighted and misguided prioritization that has serious safety implications for U.S. citizens,” the governors wrote. “This administration needs to decide whose security is more important, America’s or Iraq’s,” the letter continued. “We believe America comes first.”
State Department officials didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.
President Bush last year announced plans to add 6,000 border agents to the current 12,000. Also, he placed the same number of National Guard troops along the border on a temporary basis while agents were hired and trained.
Half of the 2,400 guardsmen in Arizona will be pulled from the border by September’s end, though the number of new agents is a fraction of what was promised.
Napolitano and Richardson sent a similar letter more than a week ago to the president about the DynCorp contract. There has been no reply.
Also, Napolitano wrote a complaint to Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Ralph Basham, questioning a program that asks active officers to volunteer for assignment in Iraq or train officers there. The department offers a 70 percent bonus, plus extensive overtime pay. That letter, too, has yet to get a response.
Russ Knocke, press secretary to Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, has said Border Patrol help in Iraq is consistent with his agency’s mission to protect the country.