Customs and Border Protection Polygraph Failure Rate Pegged at 60%

Customs and Border ProtectionOn Thursday, 11 March 2010, in testimony before a subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, it was disclosed that the failure rate associated with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pre-employment polygraph screening program stands at 60 percent. New York Times correspondent Randal C. Archibold reports, among other things:

Polygraph examinations, which officials call an important tool to help weed out bad hires, were administered to about 15 percent of applicants by the end of 2009.

That was an increase from the 10 percent of the previous year, but made possible only because hiring slowed for the first time in several years.

James F. Tomsheck, who is in charge of internal affairs for Customs and Border Protection, said that about 60 percent of candidates failed the test and were turned away, including some who officials believed had ties to criminal organizations.

Senator Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat and chairman of the subcommittee that held the hearing, described the failure rate as “alarming to me.”

“It is to me, too, sir,” Mr. Tomsheck replied.

He said the agency had 31 polygraph examiners but needed 50 more to reach a goal of screening all new hires.

In addition, he said, the agency is far behind in conducting periodic background checks of current law enforcement employees.

He also proposed giving periodic polygraph examinations to those employees but said that Congressional authorization and financing would be needed.

In assessing the significance of the 60% polygraph failure rate, it is important to bear in mind the 2002 finding of the National Academy of Sciences that polygraph screening is completely invalid. Upon completion of a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence on polygraphy, the NAS advised that “its accuracy in distinguishing actual or potential security violators from innocent test takers is insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee security screening in federal agencies.”

Applying polygraph screening to all CBP applicants will not solve the problem of corruption within the organization. Polygraphy is highly vulnerable to countermeasures, and members of criminal enterprises seeking to infiltrate CBP will likely fool the lie detector. Meanwhile, given polygraphy’s complete lack of scientific underpinnings and inherent bias against the truthful, many well-qualified applicants will be wrongly excluded from the agency. Anecdotally, has heard from a number of CBP applicants who report having been falsely accused of deception.

Comments 87

  • Not surprising at all. I was ready to work for them and I didn’t pass the polygraph for them. It has tarnished my record in trying to find a job now. I hope the CPB gets bit for letting the deceptive applicants in while keeping out the honest ones.

  • If you were so honest, you would have passed. Obviously you were completely forth right with your examiner…

  • Correction, you obviously were not completely forth right with your examiner…

  • Wrong Bob. Polygraph tests are HIGHLY inaccurate.

  • I took the polygraph test and was found unsuitable, however, i did not take no for a answer, i called the commisioners office and complained. They have an investigation going on now. if you feel you were wronged, the best thing to do is to complain to the powers. I called IA who handle the background checks everyday, nobody ever returned my e-mail or phone calls, i logged each and every time I call and e-mailed for documentation purposes and sent up the the commisioners office. the polygraph examiner said” what you did in the past , is an indicator of what you xmlwill do in the future” right there that told me, he was biased to me for my past. here is the website for CBP, call them today!!!!!!!

  • […] CBP reliance on the polygraph is unwise, said critic George Maschke, because “polygraphy is highly vulnerable to countermeasures, and members of criminal […]

  • I failed my polygraph for CBP Officer. I have been in law enforcement for ten years already and would say they are highly inaccurate. They are only to scare candidates in making confessions. Also, Bob, you are wrong!

  • I also failed, I still don’t understand why I failed but I’m calling them tomorrow

  • evo9 :
    I also failed, I still don’t understand why I failed but I’m calling them tomorrow

    I sent a letter today to appeal my poly, will see what happens.

  • I took my polygragh and failed for reasons that I am not sure of. I was drilled about one perticular question, I resonded as truthfully as possible, sware by it, and still no go.
    I think I need to call and nag someone higher up as well…

  • What did your notice say? I just recieved notice today that I failed. I was honest about everything (marijuana use twice 12 years ago). They were rude, condescending and made me feel like a criminal. I have taken and passed a polygraph before from a police agency.

  • I also failed my Polygraph and received a notice today. It stated that I was unsuitable, yet I did not lie to them, do not ave any convictions nor have I done or used drugs. The polygrapher was aggressive, and its understandable since that is his job, but the reality was that he said I was lying about the paperwork, which I was completely honest. This whole process is absurd since they still have a lot of corruption cases within the agency. Sad but true. Those who pass most likely knew or practiced in regards to this exam. They simply let go of the good apples and took in the bad ones. This Department will collapse if it continues to be like this

  • I’m glad to see there are people who’re fighting their failed test results. I just had my polygraph test a couple days ago and was told that I basically failed it. I don’t understand how I could have failed. I was completely honest and have nothing to hide but the polygrapher insisted I was deceiving him and said he was going to “dig deeper” for what I was hiding from him. For someone who has tried to do right my whole life and has overcome some pretty bad things that have happened to me as a kid and young adult, I was sure there was nothing holding me back from passing that test. But my polygrapher accused me of doing things I work to fight against every day in my job. He told me I wouldn’t be suspicious because of my position and that I have plenty of opportunities to do what he was accusing me of. Practically begged me to confess to something. I’m not sure if his methods are even standard procedure, but I left there feeling like a criminal. I want to help with border security efforts and make a decent living for my family. Why would I lie and throw away my chances? And if I were a criminal like that “all-knowing” machine made me out to be, why on earth would I subject myself to that? I haven’t received my formal results yet but I plan to dispute them when I do. I’d like to ask anyone else who is doing the same to keep us all informed about the process and any results.

  • I recently took the Polygraph and failed too. I have never been involved in any criminal activity or used any sort of illegal drugs and because of that they failed me. She said basically that she could not believe that someone could have had a background that impossibly clean, and unless I confessed to what I was hiding, she was going to have to fail me. This was my dream job, and I had turned down other good opportunities waiting for this position. I have been waiting for two years for this, have jumped through all their hoops, this was the last step everything else was complete, and now I am back to square one.

  • Same boat as everyone. Passed everything in the process except for the stupid polygraph. Any advice on how to approach this. Let me know. Thanks.

  • I received an e-mail from mhc stating that I was unsuitable for employment due to failing the polygraph, I really don’t understand how I failed it I was nothing but honest with them throughout the whole process. I already work for DHS and they still deemed me unsuitable, I’ve gone through the process for a little over a year, turned down other employments because everything seemed like it was going great. This process is wrong and I’m already working on a letter to send to some higher ups and I would highly recommend everyone on here to do so as well.

  • @Bob

  • I went in to the test purposefully naive about it, figuring I’d pass it simply by being honest (I have nothing to hide in my past and nothing to be dishonest about). WRONG. As soon as the guy did the numbers thing (telling me to lie about writing a certain number and then claiming it’s a “control” to measure what it looks like when I lie) I knew the whole thing was bogus, because if they’re measuring me lying on purpose knowing there will be no consequences and saying “that’s what it looks like when he lies”, they whole test obviously has no scientific basis whatsoever. After this I became (rightfully) nervous that I would fail even though I had nothing to lie about (because I immediately began to think about the fact that the machine only measures my physical reactions but has no idea why my body is reacting that way). I ended up being told that I failed the drug question 8 times. I have never touched drugs in my life or even known anyone who did drugs or even seen drugs except on TV. I almost laughed out loud, although I was too upset to do that of course. I believe I failed because the machine measured my feelings of fear of failing and the examiner (of course) must interpret those measurements with the assumption that I’m lying. I also believe I failed because I have a relatively clean past and I did not register enough of a reaction on the control questions, thus making me more susceptible to a false positive (false accusation of lying). Anyone who takes this test be forewarned: it is nothing but a ruse to get you to confess something verbally. I had nothing to confess, got nervous that I’d be falsely accused of lying, and “failed”. What a joke.

  • Oh yeah, I also made the mistake of mentioning that I’m a Christian (I now know that their manuals may profile a person who talks about God as being DISHONEST) and mentioning that I had heard that polygraphs are not always accurate, after which the officer lied to me by telling me that polygraphs are more accurate than many medical tests. What he conveniently didn’t tell me was that his statement is based on studies that without exception were deemed by the Natl Academy of Sciences to be flawed, and that those flawed studies only had to do with situational lying – lying about a specific situation – rather than screening situations such as the one I was in, which are very different because they have to ask very general questions. He lied to me. The truth would have been, “We actually have no idea whether you are lying or not. We can only measure physiological reactions.” Just one more reason never to expect the truth from the government.

  • @Bob
    troll with a capital T. p a t h e t i c

  • @MT
    hello, i just received my notice today , that i failed th polygraph test. I thought everything was going good. I know there has to be some king of improper way that CPS is examing the results of the test. i would love to protest or even have a option to appeal this decision. help.

  • jesus lizarraga :@MT Hello, iI just received my notice today , that I failed the polygraph test. The feeling you get unbareable, when you know you have never done nothing wrong and you told the truth. I thought everything was going good. I know there has to be some kind of improper way that CPS is examing the results of the test. I would love to protest or even have the option to appeal this decision. Help

  • what kind of questions do they ask?

  • I been down that same road as many of you. Clean background, working in DHS over 6 years. Failed the written test twice determined to pass, which I did on my thrid try. I know how potentially good CBP. Having many of my coworks moving on to CBP. I passed eveything, they threw at me. Untill I got to the Polygraph. I was honest and coopertive with everything. I did the whole choose a number trtuth and lie’ game’ they play. He insisted that I was involved with something criminal or drug related. Where I made to stay clear of drugs growing especially where i grew up and never getting involved in anything criminally.

  • I was candidd and transparent with my background. All i got back in return accusation of lying. or twisting what i was saying. You only have your word, what happened to the investigator who probes my background. who couldve talked to anyone from my job or neighborhood.I ha other guys from my job leave to the academy, who didnt have to go thru the toture of this false test. Hell the coils kept sliding down my chest, I was accused of moving.Or I was trying to control my breathing. He did whatever he could do to get a reaction out of me.I went through that nightmare twice. In a 2 week period. This guy was so determine to show me i was wrong,he turned his laptop around, so i can make out the results( with the training i never recieved to interpt the graph).I received a letter a week a two after saying I failed. Of course I was crushed and to expect to here from some one soon on the finally verdict, which never came. Did some research and called around like you many of you. on how to appeal. the findings.just plenty of hoops and circle to run. I reapplied a few months later. One of the question was have I taken the polygraph and what was the results, which i answered truthful. i complete that application. and the forms they send me. months ago. recently an email telling me to cont to stay fit for PT( 2 acutually). A short while later a email saying I am unsuitalbe do the results of my Polygraph. and I am barred 3 years from appying agian, if I do they will cont using those results against me. So why let me apply all over again then. i feel like i have a scarlet letter on me, which could possible hurt my chances for other govt LEO jobs.

  • Contact your congressman/woman and try to fight the polygraph results that stay in your records for 3 years. That’s what I did and my congresswoman is really looking into it for me. the whole 3 year thing is unfair to us and like you said it def hurts your chances in landing another LEO career. By the way you said you worked for DHS already, do you work for TSA if so what kind of clearance do you think you got from wherever you work. @mr.metoo

  • I took the Polygraph on late January/12 @ EL Paso,TX was found unsuitbale too w/ no appeal rights?? I guess polygraph exams are based what the examiner thinks about you. @ this time Im requesting to FOIA (Freedom of INformation Act) specific details why I was found unsuitable if I have clean crimminal record and was honest the whole time? Im have been employed in the import/ export field for 6 yrs and require yearly background checks to enter CBP import /export lots. I do not understand. POLYGRAPH is just BULL****.

  • Has anyone had any luck fighting these invalid results?? I am curious as to who I take this up with to try and fight it…

  • I received my polygraph results a couple of days ago and it says that I failed the test and that I was found not suitable for the job due to Criminal or Dishonest conduct but they can’t tell me what crime I’m acuse of. about two years ago everything including my background was completed and I was refered to the schedulling unit for EOD. I waited a year a nothing. One day I get a phone call from an agent telling me he needed to bring me in for a polygraph. So I went and after several hours siitting with that agent I left that place feeling like the worse criminal. Back in 2005 I was hired as a Border Patrol Agent and never anyone treated me like that. I sent a reply e-mail asking for instruccions on how to appeal this desicion and was told I didn’t have any rights to appeal. I requested all the paper work with details about how I didn’t pass the polygraph and also why am I been acuse of criminal or dishonest conduct. I’m still waiting for them to answer to this request. Now I’m getting my local congrassman involved because this is completely unfair.

  • Does anyone think that polys will soon be done away with?

  • I just passed the the medical, fitness and structure interview. Everything else is just paper work. So I am assuming that it will come down to the polygraph determining if I get the position or not. I have a DUI on my record 5 years ago and tried drugs 7 years ago. I currently work for DHS with a secret and served time in the army. I am just wondering if all this is a waste a time if they are going to just fail me on the polygraph for past issues. I called the Minneapolis Hiring Center and told them my previous errors and also told them that I didn’t want to waste my time going through a process that I was going to eventually fail. They assured me that I was not disqualified for the position but I will be pissed if I fail the poly graph on BS.

  • Are polys mandatory for all CBP officer positions now?

  • I also failed the polygraph about a month ago, the polygraph examiner told me that the machine showed deception on drug related question, which is absurd. Reason being I have stayed away from drugs all my life, other than the occassional party were people would smoke outside. I explained to the agent that I wouldnt lie, why would I purposely lie when becoming a BP agent has been my dream for several years. Whatever the case, i was called back for a second examination in which I failed once again. I wasnt mad at the agent, i was just frustrated because after staying clean all my life, this is what happens. Im trying to move on now but I read a lot of people’s posts, and I can honestly say the polygraph is useless. Yes it stops bad people from joining our amazing agencies, but it also keeps GREAT people from joining them as well.

  • Everyone who commented on here failed the Polygraph exam. That’s crazy. I’m supposed to take this exam in a few weeks. I’m glad I’m in the process for other law enforcement agencies right now. Looks like I can’t depend on CBP. smh. I hope I pass, but from what it looks like, my chances are very slim.

  • I failed the polygraph a few months ago with a clean criminal background including zero moving violations on my DL. I requested an apeal and they said I had no rights to get one. I try getting my local congresswoman involve. I wrote her, other congress people a letter explaining my issue.The only response I got was from a senator Marco Rubio telling me that he’ll get back to me. I’m still waiting to hear from him. As a last option a went to see my local congresswoman here in South FL and her front desk lady told me that If I don’t know her she couldn’t help me out. I guess next time the democratic party calls me or sends me an e-mail requesting my vote for this coming elections I’ll just tell them that since I don’t know them I can’t help them. I can not believe that they will make a desicion on the hiring of new employees just based on a polygraph. I’ve met people with bad backgrounds that are able to pass the polygraph controlling their vita signs. How sad!!

  • Bob you must be a polygraph examiner ? And I guess you also belive a machine can read a human mind ?

  • @MT, hey yes i do work for TSA, I belive i have a secret clearence. Sorry I ve been away from this blog for a while now. Since post on here before i applied for USCP, going thru ther hiring process. Not going to lie i worried about, how my failure with CBP poly, will affect me getting hired with USCP. On top of that I receievd another tentative letter from CBP last week. But I am like whats the point, when IA gets to my application, they will see I filed the Poly already. Not that it matters to them but i have a child due, at the beginnig of next year. I hear CBP academy is starting in Januray so is USCP. What am I a going to teach my child, do right and you wont be rewarded.

  • Like all of you, I got my letter in the mail today that i failed my polygraph and that I will no longer be considered for the cbpo position. It took the poly 4 months ago. I have no criminal record nor have I ever been arrested. I experimented with marjiuana as a teen and tried mushrooms once while on vacation. All this was over 17 years ago and since then I haven’t done any type of illicit drug scince and I admitted to this. They never specified why I failed just that I failed. I currently work for DHS at a mangement capacity with a secret clearence, so my background has been checked over and over again. This system cbp is implementing is a bunch of BS. They are weeding away perfectly suitable applicants who have every intention of doing the right thing and desire to serve their country. Snort cocaine consecutively however and you become president. Can’t anyone see how flawed this system is? My examiner was abnoxious and tried to use the old “pull the joker out of your pocket” routine and ill be fine. Well i did and i ended up failing. I felt like a piece of crap after not to mention violated. I felt like a suspect being interrogated as apposed to an applicant for a job. All in all cbp waisted my time for a year as they did all of you. Im not going to waste my time appealing they obviously are going to end up with the same corruption issues if they continue with these bogus hiring practices and ill be the first one laughing my head off.

  • MAURICIO, Have you heard anything back form your congress person?

  • I failed for dishonest or criminal conduct. Waste of a year and a half. Worked as an agent for DHS for a few years and as a police officer. Sad that a decision not to hire is based solely on a bogus polygraph exam.

  • I requested specific details to FOIA regarding my poly results and they stated they will be sending the results in a CD but they did not know when. As per FOIA they has many if front of me; it could take a year. LOL

  • I found this on-line.

    A favorably completed background investigation is required for your placement in the CBPO position. Final determination of your suitability for the position will be determined by CBP. You will be provided the opportunity to personally explain, refute, or clarify any unfavorable/discrepant information before a final decision is made.

    Its going to be a year and nothing.

  • Just failed my poly this morning. Apparently they think I committed a serious crime against a person. That I was directly or indirectly involved in hurting someone or someone being hospitalized. I have NO idea where they got this from. Beyond me. 2 years of waiting for this chance to be turned down by the most BOGUS of accusations.

  • So who does this information go to? Because, if i want to apply for any other jobs, and i failed this polygraph who they report this too? Can I apply for other federal jobs, other law enforcement jobs? I don’t want to apply somewhere else and look like a criminal because DHS reported I failed a suitability issue or criminal.

  • josh :
    I also failed my Polygraph and received a notice today. It stated that I was unsuitable, yet I did not lie to them, do not ave any convictions nor have I done or used drugs. The polygrapher was aggressive, and its understandable since that is his job, but the reality was that he said I was lying about the paperwork, which I was completely honest. This whole process is absurd since they still have a lot of corruption cases within the agency. Sad but true. Those who pass most likely knew or practiced in regards to this exam. They simply let go of the good apples and took in the bad ones. This Department will collapse if it continues to be like this

  • Hey Guys, so I got the same letter. I have enough money to hire an attorney- and prove that I am not Lying on my POLY- do you know where to start?

  • jesus lizarraga :
    hello, i just received my notice today , that i failed th polygraph test. I thought everything was going good. I know there has to be some king of improper way that CPS is examing the results of the test. i would love to protest or even have a option to appeal this decision. help.

  • I passed mine, but they didn’t like the fact that I experimented with a drug 26 years ago, so found me unsuitable.

  • I took one for the FBI and was told i was “showing a result” for drug and crime questions. I was running on no real sleep. If I knew i was going to waste three hours just to get slandered by a stranger i would have just said to hell with it. So much for getting my hopes up.

    I’m going for the CBP poly in a few weeks. After my first experience I have zero tolerance for a passive aggressive fishing expedition. He’ll see a result when i get mad and get up and leave.

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