Border Security:

Additional Actions Needed to Better Ensure a Coordinated Federal Response to Illegal Activity on Federal Lands

GAO-11-177: Published: Nov 18, 2010. Publicly Released: Dec 8, 2010.

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Federal and tribal lands on the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico are vulnerable to illegal cross-border activity. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)--through its U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Border Patrol (Border Patrol)--is responsible for securing these lands, while the Departments of the Interior (DOI) and Agriculture (USDA) manage natural resources and protect the public. GAO was asked to examine the extent that (1) border security threats have changed on federal lands; (2) federal agencies operating on these lands have shared threat information and communications; and (3) federal agencies have coordinated budgets, resources, and strategies. GAO reviewed interagency agreements and threat assessments; analyzed enforcement data from 2007 through 2009; and interviewed officials at headquarters and two Border Patrol sectors selected due to high volume of illegal cross-border activity (Tucson) and limited ability to detect this activity (Spokane). GAO's observations cannot be generalized to all sectors but provide insights. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in October 2010. Information that DHS deemed sensitive has been redacted.

Illegal cross-border activity remains a significant threat to federal lands. On the southwest border, the Tucson sector is the primary entry point for marijuana smugglers and illegal aliens, and over the last 3 years apprehensions on federal lands have not kept pace with Border Patrol estimates of the number of illegal entries, indicating that the threat to federal lands may be increasing. On the northern border, the Spokane sector is a primary entry point for air smugglers of high-potency marijuana, but technical challenges preclude fully assessing threats to these borderlands. In the Tucson sector, federal land managers said they would like additional guidance to determine when illegal cross-border activity poses a sufficient public safety risk for them to restrict or close access to federal lands. DOI and USDA efforts to determine whether additional guidance is needed--consistent with internal control standards for the federal government and in line with DHS contingency plans for southwest border violence--could help federal land managers more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands. Information sharing and communication among DHS, DOI, and USDA have increased in recent years, but critical gaps remain in implementing interagency agreements. Agencies established forums and liaisons to exchange information; however, in the Tucson sector, agencies did not coordinate to ensure that federal land law enforcement officials maintained access to threat information and compatible secure radio communications for daily operations. Coordination in these areas could better ensure officer safety and an efficient law enforcement response to illegal activity. There has been little interagency coordination to share intelligence assessments of border security threats to federal lands and develop budget requests, strategies, and joint operations to address these threats. Interagency efforts to implement provisions of existing agreements in these areas could better leverage law enforcement partner resources and knowledge for more effective border security operations on federal lands. GAO is recommending that DOI and USDA determine if more guidance is needed for federal land closures, and that DHS, DOI, and USDA further implement interagency agreements. DHS, DOI, and USDA concurred with the recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During our review, Department of Interior (DOI) land managers in Tucson sector expressed concern that available agency guidance was insufficient to determine when public access to federal lands should be restricted in response to potential danger caused by cross-border illegal activity. We recommended that the Secretary of the Interior review and determine whether DOI field units on the southwest border have adequate guidance to assist federal land managers in determining when public access to federal borderlands should be restricted in response to such risks. DOI agreed with our recommendation and in fiscal year 2012, took corrective action to review existing guidance, interview senior policy officials, and conduct on-line questionnaires to field managers on southwest borderlands in regard to sufficiency of guidance. As a result of these actions, DOI determined that it would not propose changes to guidance in agency regulations or manuals, but provided field managers with a memorandum outlining several key factors to be considered when making decisions to close and open public lands, strongly recommended that field managers use a risk assessment tool used by the U.S. Coast Guard and adapted for use by the National Park Service, to assess risk factors and document decisions to open and close areas to the public, and work with U.S. Border Patrol Public Lands Liaison Agents (PLLAs) to obtain real time threat information helpful in making a determination on public safety. Such coordination with Border Patrol PLLAs was also to inform Border Patrol of changes in status of access to public lands to coordinate any adjustments in patrol activities or procedures. DOI's actions are consistent with our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that federal land managers have guidance to more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should review and determine whether their field units on the southwest border have adequate guidance to assist federal land managers in determining when public access to federal borderlands should be restricted in response to risks associated with cross-border illegal activity. After completion of this review, and if additional guidance is needed, DOI and USDA should consult with DHS to ensure that any additional guidance developed is consistent with DHS contingency plans for southwest border violence.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During our review, Forest Service land managers in Tucson sector expressed concern that available agency guidance was insufficient to determine when public access to federal lands should be restricted in response to potential danger caused by cross-border illegal activity. We recommended that the Secretary of Agriculture review and determine whether DOI field units on the southwest border have adequate guidance to assist federal land managers in determining when public access to federal borderlands should be restricted in response to such risks. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agreed with our recommendation and took steps in 2010 and 2011 to address it. In October and November 2010, USDA conducted listening sessions with employees and managers from the southwest border on border security issues. In response to these sessions, in 2011, USDA provided border security training to personnel along the southwest border. Prior to each training session, participants were asked to fill out a pre-training questionnaire consisting of seven questions related to the employees' sense of security and situational awareness to use as a baseline for measuring the success of the training. Employees were also asked to fill out a post-training questionnaire at the end of training to document any change in perception as a result of the training. USDA also stated that it has also conducted physical security assessments of the agency facilities along the southwest border region and established a security management office to write departmental regulations. USDA's actions are consistent with our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that federal land managers have guidance to more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should review and determine whether their field units on the southwest border have adequate guidance to assist federal land managers in determining when public access to federal borderlands should be restricted in response to risks associated with cross-border illegal activity. After completion of this review, and if additional guidance is needed, DOI and USDA should consult with DHS to ensure that any additional guidance developed is consistent with DHS contingency plans for southwest border violence.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information. Status last updated 3/6/2014.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of Border Patrol budget requests for personnel, infrastructure, and technology that affect federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information. Status last updated on 3/6/2014.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of efforts to determine agencies' information needs for intelligence, including coordination of Border Patrol annual assessments of the threat environment and vulnerabilities affecting border security on federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During our review, we found that the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Interior (DOI) and Agriculture (USDA) did not coordinate to ensure that federal land law enforcement officials in the Tucson sector had access to compatible secure radio communications to coordinate daily operations. We recommended that the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture take necessary action to ensure coordination of future plans for upgrades of compatible radio communications used for daily law enforcement operations on federal lands. DHS, DOI and USDA agreed with our recommendation, and in response, the Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol issued a memorandum in January 2011 explaining that radio communication interoperability with DOI and USDA is critically important and that future plans for upgrades of compatible radio communications used for daily law enforcement operations on federal lands must be coordinated with DOI, USDA and other local law enforcement partners. That same month, DOI explained that it worked closely with the Border Patrol on secure radio interoperability and would continue to work on radio interoperability with the Border Patrol and USDA as technology evolves and equipment is changed or upgraded. In March 2011, USDA explained that its law enforcement officers on the southwest border have radios that are compatible with DHS, and are able to communicate by radio with DHS on a daily basis. Finally, between October 2012 and March 2013, federal land law enforcement officials in Tucson sector confirmed that they had access to compatible secure radio communications to coordinate daily operations on federal lands. The actions taken by DHS, DOI, and USDA meet the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of future plans for upgrades of compatible radio communications used for daily law enforcement operations on federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During our review, we found that the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Interior (DOI) and Agriculture (USDA) did not coordinate to ensure that federal land law enforcement officials in the Tucson sector had access to compatible secure radio communications to coordinate daily operations. We recommended that the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture take necessary action to ensure coordination of future plans for upgrades of compatible radio communications used for daily law enforcement operations on federal lands. DHS, DOI and USDA agreed with our recommendation, and in response, the Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol issued a memorandum in January 2011 explaining that radio communication interoperability with DOI and USDA is critically important and that future plans for upgrades of compatible radio communications used for daily law enforcement operations on federal lands must be coordinated with DOI, USDA and other local law enforcement partners. That same month, DOI explained that it worked closely with the Border Patrol on secure radio interoperability and would continue to work on radio interoperability with the Border Patrol and USDA as technology evolves and equipment is changed or upgraded. In March 2011, USDA explained that its law enforcement officers on the southwest border have radios that are compatible with DHS, and are able to communicate by radio with DHS on a daily basis. Finally, between October 2012 and March 2013, federal land law enforcement officials in Tucson sector confirmed that they had access to compatible secure radio communications to coordinate daily operations on federal lands. The actions taken by DHS, DOI, and USDA meet the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of future plans for upgrades of compatible radio communications used for daily law enforcement operations on federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information. Status last updated on 3/6/2014.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of threat information for federal lands that is timely and actionable.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information. Status last updated on 3/6/2014.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of threat information for federal lands that is timely and actionable.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  9. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information. Status last updated on 3/6/2014.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of threat information for federal lands that is timely and actionable.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  10. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information. Status last updated on 3/6/2014.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of efforts to determine agencies' information needs for intelligence, including coordination of Border Patrol annual assessments of the threat environment and vulnerabilities affecting border security on federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  11. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information. Status last updated 3/6/2014.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of Border Patrol budget requests for personnel, infrastructure, and technology that affect federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  12. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information. Status last updated 3/6/2014.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of Border Patrol budget requests for personnel, infrastructure, and technology that affect federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  13. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation,we will provide updated information. Status last updated 3/6/2014.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of efforts to determine agencies' information needs for intelligence, including coordination of Border Patrol annual assessments of the threat environment and vulnerabilities affecting border security on federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  14. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During our review, we found that the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Interior (DOI) and Agriculture (USDA) did not coordinate to ensure that federal land law enforcement officials in the Tucson sector had access to compatible secure radio communications to coordinate daily operations. We recommended that the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture take necessary action to ensure coordination of future plans for upgrades of compatible radio communications used for daily law enforcement operations on federal lands. DHS, DOI and USDA agreed with our recommendation, and in response, the Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol issued a memorandum in January 2011 explaining that radio communication interoperability with DOI and USDA is critically important and that future plans for upgrades of compatible radio communications used for daily law enforcement operations on federal lands must be coordinated with DOI, USDA and other local law enforcement partners. That same month, DOI explained that it worked closely with the Border Patrol on secure radio interoperability and would continue to work on radio interoperability with the Border Patrol and USDA as technology evolves and equipment is changed or upgraded. In March 2011, USDA explained that its law enforcement officers on the southwest border have radios that are compatible with DHS, and are able to communicate by radio with DHS on a daily basis. Finally, between October 2012 and March 2013, federal land law enforcement officials in Tucson sector confirmed that they had access to compatible secure radio communications to coordinate daily operations on federal lands. The actions taken by DHS, DOI, and USDA meet the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of future plans for upgrades of compatible radio communications used for daily law enforcement operations on federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  15. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information. Status last updated 3/6/2014.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of access to information resulting from deployment of technology on federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  16. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information. Status last updated 3/6/2014.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of access to information resulting from deployment of technology on federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  17. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information. Status last updated 3/6/2014.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of access to information resulting from deployment of technology on federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  18. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information. Status last updated 3/6/2014.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of deployment plans for personnel, infrastructure, and technology on federal lands before such deployment is initiated.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  19. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information. Status last updated 3/6/2014.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of deployment plans for personnel, infrastructure, and technology on federal lands before such deployment is initiated.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  20. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information. Status last updated 3/6/2014.

    Recommendation: To more easily balance public safety and access to federal borderlands and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA coordinate efforts to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response on these lands, and to help ensure that DHS, DOI, and USDA partners operating on federal lands have a common understanding of existing cross-border threats and coordinate to provide an effective interagency law enforcement response, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should take necessary action to ensure that personnel at all levels of each agency conduct early and continued consultations to implement provisions of the 2006 MOU, specifically coordination of deployment plans for personnel, infrastructure, and technology on federal lands before such deployment is initiated.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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