Border Security:

Agencies Need to Better Coordinate Their Strategies and Operations on Federal Lands

GAO-04-590: Published: Jun 16, 2004. Publicly Released: Jul 1, 2004.

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Since the mid-1990s--and especially since September 11--the government has focused attention and resources on preventing illegal aliens, drug smugglers, and potential terrorists from entering the United States across its land borders with Mexico and Canada. The Border Patrol is responsible for protecting the nation's borders. However, a significant portion of the borderlands are federal or tribal lands managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and Forest Service. Realizing the importance of coordinating federal law enforcement efforts, GAO agreed to assess: (1) border-related law enforcement challenges for land management agencies in Arizona and Washington, (2) resources land management agencies have received to address these challenges, and (3) how the Border Patrol and land management agencies coordinate border-related law enforcement efforts.

Illegal border activities, including alien border crossings and drug smuggling, on federal and tribal lands in Arizona have been increasing since the mid-to late-1990s, creating law enforcement challenges for land management agencies. This situation poses dangers to law enforcement officers, visitors, and employees and damages fragile natural resources. Rising illegal activity on these federal lands results from the Border Patrol's strategy to deter illegal entry by concentrating resources in populated areas--thus shifting illegal traffic to more remote federal lands, where Border Patrol has placed fewer resources. Although the problem is less acute along the Canadian border, land management agency officials in Washington are concerned that as the Border Patrol increases resources in populated areas, more illegal traffic will shift to remote federal lands. Officials from the five land management agencies believe their resource levels have not kept pace with increases in illegal border activities on their lands. Agencies have sought more federal funds to address these problems and have received varying levels of law enforcement staffing and resource increases. According to Office of Management and Budget representatives, agency funding is mission-driven. Thus, land management agencies' proposals for certain border projects have not been included in the administration's fiscal year 2005 budget because they were considered to be more in keeping with the border security mission of the Border Patrol. At the national level, interagency coordination of strategic plans and activities among Border Patrol and land management agencies is minimal regarding the Mexican and Canadian borders. Thus, limited funds may not be used most efficiently, and the impact of one agency's actions on another agency may not be considered. As of May 2004, the Border Patrol had not issued detailed plans to ensure that interagency coordination occurs, nor had it coordinated with land management officials regarding funding for infrastructure and technology improvements. Some coordination had occurred at the field level, as officials from the various agencies had begun meeting to improve operations and to share threat assessments in Arizona.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help ensure that federal law enforcement resources are being effectively focused on the areas of greatest need along the Mexican and Canadian borders, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should require their respective law enforcement components to consult with each other when developing their strategic plans and accompanying implementation plans and to ensure these plans establish, at a minimum, goals regarding coordinating the development and sharing the results of threat assessments and other risk assessments of border areas encompassing federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2006, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Interior signed a memorandum of understanding to provide, among other things, consistent goals, principles, and guidance for the coordination and sharing of information on threat assessments, plans for infrastructure and technology improvements on federal lands, and operation and law enforcement staffing changes. This coordinated interagency approach establishes a basis for the Border Patrol and land management agencies to resolve conflicts, develop and use consistent communication protocols, and cooperate with each other to help secure the borders of the United States.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that federal law enforcement resources are being effectively focused on the areas of greatest need along the Mexican and Canadian borders, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should require their respective law enforcement components to consult with each other when developing their strategic plans and accompanying implementation plans and to ensure these plans establish, at a minimum, goals regarding coordinating the development and sharing the results of threat assessments and other risk assessments of border areas encompassing federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2006, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Interior signed a memorandum of understanding to provide, among other things, consistent goals, principles, and guidance for the coordination and sharing of information on threat assessments, plans for infrastructure and technology improvements on federal lands, and operation and law enforcement staffing changes. This coordinated interagency approach establishes a basis for the Border Patrol and land management agencies to resolve conflicts, develop and use consistent communication protocols, and cooperate with each other to help secure the borders of the United States.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that federal law enforcement resources are being effectively focused on the areas of greatest need along the Mexican and Canadian borders, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should require their respective law enforcement components to consult with each other when developing their strategic plans and accompanying implementation plans and to ensure these plans establish, at a minimum, goals regarding coordinating the development and sharing the results of threat assessments and other risk assessments of border areas encompassing federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2006, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Interior signed a memorandum of understanding to provide, among other things, consistent goals, principles, and guidance for the coordination and sharing of information on threat assessments, plans for infrastructure and technology improvements on federal lands, and operation and law enforcement staffing changes. This coordinated interagency approach establishes a basis for the Border Patrol and land management agencies to resolve conflicts, develop and use consistent communication protocols, and cooperate with each other to help secure the borders of the United States.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that federal law enforcement resources are being effectively focused on the areas of greatest need along the Mexican and Canadian borders, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should require their respective law enforcement components to consult with each other when developing their strategic plans and accompanying implementation plans and to ensure these plans establish, at a minimum, goals regarding coordinating the development of plans for infrastructure and technology improvements to be placed on or near federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2006, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Interior signed a memorandum of understanding to provide, among other things, consistent goals, principles, and guidance for the coordination and sharing of information on threat assessments, plans for infrastructure and technology improvements on federal lands, and operation and law enforcement staffing changes. This coordinated interagency approach establishes a basis for the Border Patrol and land management agencies to resolve conflicts, develop and use consistent communication protocols, and cooperate with each other to help secure the borders of the United States.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that federal law enforcement resources are being effectively focused on the areas of greatest need along the Mexican and Canadian borders, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should require their respective law enforcement components to consult with each other when developing their strategic plans and accompanying implementation plans and to ensure these plans establish, at a minimum, goals regarding coordinating the development of plans for infrastructure and technology improvements to be placed on or near federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2006, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Interior signed a memorandum of understanding to provide, among other things, consistent goals, principles, and guidance for the coordination and sharing of information on threat assessments, plans for infrastructure and technology improvements on federal lands, and operation and law enforcement staffing changes. This coordinated interagency approach establishes a basis for the Border Patrol and land management agencies to resolve conflicts, develop and use consistent communication protocols, and cooperate with each other to help secure the borders of the United States.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that federal law enforcement resources are being effectively focused on the areas of greatest need along the Mexican and Canadian borders, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should require their respective law enforcement components to consult with each other when developing their strategic plans and accompanying implementation plans and to ensure these plans establish, at a minimum, goals regarding coordinating the development of plans for infrastructure and technology improvements to be placed on or near federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2006, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Interior signed a memorandum of understanding to provide, among other things, consistent goals, principles, and guidance for the coordination and sharing of information on threat assessments, plans for infrastructure and technology improvements on federal lands, and operation and law enforcement staffing changes. This coordinated interagency approach establishes a basis for the Border Patrol and land management agencies to resolve conflicts, develop and use consistent communication protocols, and cooperate with each other to help secure the borders of the United States.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that federal law enforcement resources are being effectively focused on the areas of greatest need along the Mexican and Canadian borders, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should require their respective law enforcement components to consult with each other when developing their strategic plans and accompanying implementation plans and to ensure these plans establish, at a minimum, goals regarding coordinating and sharing information about changes in the number and uses of law enforcement personnel on or near federal lands and the potential consequences for all the agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2006, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Interior signed a memorandum of understanding to provide, among other things, consistent goals, principles, and guidance for the coordination and sharing of information on threat assessments, plans for infrastructure and technology improvements on federal lands, and operation and law enforcement staffing changes. This coordinated interagency approach establishes a basis for the Border Patrol and land management agencies to resolve conflicts, develop and use consistent communication protocols, and cooperate with each other to help secure the borders of the United States.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that federal law enforcement resources are being effectively focused on the areas of greatest need along the Mexican and Canadian borders, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should require their respective law enforcement components to consult with each other when developing their strategic plans and accompanying implementation plans and to ensure these plans establish, at a minimum, goals regarding coordinating and sharing information about changes in the number and uses of law enforcement personnel on or near federal lands and the potential consequences for all the agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2006, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Interior signed a memorandum of understanding to provide, among other things, consistent goals, principles, and guidance for the coordination and sharing of information on threat assessments, plans for infrastructure and technology improvements on federal lands, and operation and law enforcement staffing changes. This coordinated interagency approach establishes a basis for the Border Patrol and land management agencies to resolve conflicts, develop and use consistent communication protocols, and cooperate with each other to help secure the borders of the United States.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that federal law enforcement resources are being effectively focused on the areas of greatest need along the Mexican and Canadian borders, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should require their respective law enforcement components to consult with each other when developing their strategic plans and accompanying implementation plans and to ensure these plans establish, at a minimum, goals regarding coordinating and sharing information about changes in the number and uses of law enforcement personnel on or near federal lands and the potential consequences for all the agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2006, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Interior signed a memorandum of understanding to provide, among other things, consistent goals, principles, and guidance for the coordination and sharing of information on threat assessments, plans for infrastructure and technology improvements on federal lands, and operation and law enforcement staffing changes. This coordinated interagency approach establishes a basis for the Border Patrol and land management agencies to resolve conflicts, develop and use consistent communication protocols, and cooperate with each other to help secure the borders of the United States.

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