(CNSNews.com) - U.S. Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security on Thursday that she first heard about the “highly offensive and absolutely unacceptable posts” on a Border Patrol Facebook group that she was a member of on July 1 when it was first reported by the media.
During the Border Patrol oversight hearing, Subcommittee Chairwoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) asked Provost to explain why she joined the Facebook group and when she chose to leave the group.
“Your initial press release to this story about the Facebook group for Border Patrol agents implied that you were surprised by the racist, vulgar content that it exposed, and subsequent reports, however, indicated you were a member of that group as recently as last November. Can you please explain why you initially joined the group and why and when you chose to leave the group,” the congresswoman said.
“I joined Facebook in 2016, mainly to reach out to friends and colleagues - friends from back home where I was raised in Kansas as well as friends that I’ve made over the years in the Border Patrol as I’ve moved along the entire southwest border throughout my career. Some time in 2017 - I believe it was right about two years ago from now - a colleague invited me to some groups,” Provost explained.
“They had mentioned to me that in my acting role as the chief at that time that some of the agents were discussing how I was doing, and it was something that I was certainly interested in knowing how I was representing my workforce. I didn’t think anything of it at the time,” she said.
“I am on Facebook very, very rarely. I use it occasionally, as I said, to speak with friends back home, to answer instant messages, and now and again to try to see how my workforce feels I am doing,” Provost said.
Provost said that as soon as she was made aware of the posts, she addressed them and “self-reported to the Office of Professional Responsibility” once she realized that she was a member of the Facebook group and even gave the office total access to her Facebook account.
“Let me be clear. On July 1st was the first time that I saw those highly offensive and absolutely unacceptable posts when I saw them in the ProPublica report. As soon as I saw them, I made sure that I put an announcement out to the workforce condemning the actions of those individuals. It’s completely unacceptable and not representative of the Border Patrol as a whole,” Provost said.
“I also self-reported to the Office of Professional Responsibility once I realized that this was a group that I was a member of. Not only did I self-report, I turned my entire Facebook account over to the Office of Professional Responsibility, and when I say that, I gave them my log-in and my password so they had full access to my account, and they were able to go in and look at all of my activity over the three years that I have been a member of Facebook,” she said.
Provost said she was such an infrequent user of Facebook that she had only logged onto the site nine different times in one year.
“When I mentioned earlier that I am an infrequent user of Facebook, in their assessment, for example, from June of 2018 through June of 2019, I logged onto Facebook on nine different days - nine days in a year - less than once a month. Sometimes, I would go for months without logging on, and then other times maybe once or twice within a month timeframe. I am as outraged as everyone else when it comes to the statements that were made on that page,” she said.
“The Office of Professional Responsibility immediately opened up investigations into the posts,” Provost said, “and I believe there’s been some others since then.”
“They’re investigating all of these. The Border Patrol has issued ... cease and desist letters to individuals that are employed by us that have ... either made those posts or made comments to those posts. We also have placed some individuals on administrative duties while the investigations are being completed by the Office of Professional Responsibility,” she said.
Provost said the offensive posts are “not indicative” of the Border Patrol that she knows. She explained that she dedicated half her life to serving in the Border Patrol.
“I have given half of my life, literally half of my life to this organization. I was born and raised in Kansas about as far away from the border as one can possibly be and was a police officer when I joined. I expected that I would use the Border Patrol to move onto something that when I was 25 years old, I considered to be bigger and better. One year in this organization, and I swore I would never leave,” she said.
The Border Patrol takes the allegations “extremely seriously,” Provost said, adding that “a few bad apples are not representative of the organization.”
“There are bad doctors. There are bad nurses. There are bad teachers, but we don’t vilify the entire group of those individuals. We need to take action on those who have violated our standards of conduct, and we need to hold them accountable, and we will do that,” she pledged.
Roybal-Allard asked Provost, “Based on your testimony, you’re saying that the first time you were aware of these inappropriate comments was when it was broken in the news?”
“On July 1st. Yes, ma’am,” Provost replied.
“And also that you are committed to taking appropriate disciplinary action against personnel who violated the CBP standards of conduct,” Roybal-Allard said.
“Yes,” Provost responded.
“As a follow-up, I understand the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility, which is looking into specific allegations against individual employees has in fact in the past reprimanded employees from this very group because of similar posts. Yet, these posts continued, and it appears that there is a subculture among agents that has been allowed to propogate because the agency has been too tolerant of this small but pervasive subculture,” Roybal-Allard said.
“Would you agree that such a subculture exists and that the Border Patrol has been maybe a little too tolerant of it, and what steps are you taking to ensure that this doesn’t happen again? For example, are you considering to change that subculture by making changes to the Border Patrol’s social media policy, diversity bystander and workforce resiliency training and better educating employees on reporting mechanisms and consequences,” the congresswoman asked.
“I personally disagree when it comes to a subculture in the Border Patrol,” Provost said. “As I stated before, there are many things that we are doing. … The assistant commissioner … of the Office Professional Responsibility in 2018 put out a memo addressing social media when we started seeing some issues when it came to social media.
“These were not necessarily specific to this site. I don’t know what sites they were specific to, but there were some social media issues. We have created training, and I should have mentioned this earlier, but all of the workforce, the CBP workforce, will complete this training by the end of the fiscal year. It has just become available,” she said.
“The Office of Professional Responsibility has been sending out reminders. I have sent out and will continue to. I will tell you as I said before if the few bad apples that we have in our organizations we don’t want as well, because they do not represent my men and women, my workforce of 20,000 who are out there risking their lives to protect this country. … We take all allegations extremely seriously, and I can tell you that everything will be investigated completely,” Provost added.
When asked whether Provost is looking at CBP recruitment efforts and the application process to find a better way to filter out cultural bias by the people they hire, the chief said, “We have a very extensive background investigation for everyone who is hired on, and as you all know, ever since the Anti-Border Corruption Act of 2010, our men and women all take a polygraph as well when they come on.
“This is something that to me is extremely important. In my career, I helped draft the 2014 new Use of Force policy. In fact, I oversaw that, and the one time that I have stepped outside of my role as a Border Patrol agent was in 2015 when I became the deputy assistant commissioner of the Office of Professional Responsibility,” Provost said.
“Honor first is the motto of the Border Patrol, and I hold that near and dear to my heart, and it is extremely important to me that we deal with this issue, but I would still not call it a subculture. The vast, vast majority - 99 point whatever percent of our men and women are good, hard-working American citizens, who are doing the best they can in a very difficult crisis,” she said.