Border Security:

Enhanced DHS Oversight and Assessment of Interagency Coordination Is Needed for the Northern Border

GAO-11-97: Published: Dec 17, 2010. Publicly Released: Feb 1, 2011.

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The challenges of securing the U.S.-Canadian border involve the coordination of multiple partners. The results of the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) efforts to integrate border security among its components and across federal, state, local, tribal, and Canadian partners are unclear. GAO was asked to address the extent to which DHS has (1) improved coordination with state, local, tribal, and Canadian partners; (2) progressed in addressing past federal coordination challenges; and (3) progressed in securing the northern border and used coordination efforts to address existing vulnerabilities. GAO reviewed interagency agreements, strategies, and operational documents that address DHS's reported northern border vulnerabilities such as terrorism. GAO visited four Border Patrol sectors, selected based on threat, and interviewed officials from federal, state, local, tribal, and Canadian agencies operating within these sectors. While these results cannot be generalized, they provided insights on border security coordination.

According to a majority of selected northern border security partners GAO interviewed, DHS improved northern border security coordination through interagency forums and joint operations. Specifically, interagency forums were beneficial in establishing a common understanding of security, while joint operations helped to achieve an integrated and effective law enforcement response. However, numerous partners cited challenges related to the inability to resource the increasing number of interagency forums and raised concerns that some efforts may be overlapping. While guidance issued by GAO stresses the need for a process to ensure that resources are used effectively and efficiently, DHS does not oversee the interagency forums established by its components. DHS oversight could help prevent possible duplication of efforts and conserve resources. DHS component officials reported that federal agency coordination to secure the northern border was improved, but partners in all four sectors GAO visited cited ongoing challenges sharing information and resources for daily border security related to operations and investigations. DHS has established and updated interagency agreements, but oversight by management at the component and local level has not ensured consistent compliance with provisions of these agreements, such as those related to information sharing, in areas GAO visited. As a result, according to DHS officials, field agents have been left to resolve coordination challenges. Ongoing DHS-level oversight and attention to enforcing accountability of established agreements could help address long-standing coordination challenges between DHS components, and further the DHS strategic vision for a coordinated homeland security enterprise. Border Patrol--a component of DHS's U.S. Customs and Border Protection--reported that 32 of the nearly 4,000 northern border miles in fiscal year 2010 had reached an acceptable level of security and that there is a high reliance on law enforcement support from outside the border zone. However, the extent of partner law enforcement resources available to address border security vulnerabilities is not reflected in Border Patrol's processes for assessing border security and resource requirements. GAO previously reported that federal agencies should identify resources among collaborating agencies to deliver results more efficiently and that DHS had not fully responded to a legislative requirement to link initiatives--including partnerships--to existing border vulnerabilities to inform federal resource allocation decisions. Development of policy and guidance to integrate available partner resources in northern border security assessments and resource planning documents could provide the agency and Congress with more complete information necessary to make resource allocation decisions in mitigating existing border vulnerabilities. GAO is recommending that DHS enhance oversight to ensure efficient use of interagency forums and compliance with interagency agreements; and develop guidance to integrate partner resources to mitigate northern border vulnerabilities. DHS concurred with our recommendations.

Status Legend:

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  • 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 DHS is maximizing the benefits of its coordination efforts with northern border partners through interagency forums, documented agreements, and its resource planning process, the Secretary of Homeland Security should provide DHS-level guidance and oversight for interagency forums established or sponsored by its components to ensure that the missions and locations are not duplicative and to consider the downstream burden on northern border partners.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Open

    Comments: In fiscal year 2011, we reviewed and reported the extent to which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had improved federal coordination of border security intelligence and enforcement operations with state, local, and Canadian law enforcement partners. We found, among other things, that DHS improved northern border security coordination through interagency forums and joint operations; however, partners raised concerns about the resources needed for the increasing number of interagency forums and that some efforts may be overlapping. In May 2011 and June 2012, DHS reported that it is taking action to coordinate law enforcement initiatives and advance communications interoperability and information sharing, while reducing duplicative activities. DHS also reported that the DHS Northern Border Strategy, released in June 2012, is intended to align internal DHS operations and provide a unified direction that will also help the department reduce duplicative activities. However, DHS's efforts to coordinate law enforcement initiatives and its Northern Border Strategy do not specifically address possible duplication of efforts and resource constraints that may be imposed by interagency forums. Further, DHS leadership has not yet determined how the strategy will be implemented. As of November 2013, DHS has not yet provided guidance and oversight for interagency forums, including IBET and BEST, and DHS officials could not provide timeframes for addressing this recommendation. To fully address this recommendation, DHS needs to provide guidance specific to interagency forums established or sponsored by its components and conduct DHS-level oversight for those forums to ensure they are not duplicative and do not burden northern border partners.

    Recommendation: To help ensure DHS is maximizing the benefits of its coordination efforts with northern border partners through interagency forums, documented agreements, and its resource planning process, the Secretary of Homeland Security should provide regular DHS-level oversight of Border Patrol and ICE compliance with the provisions of the interagency memorandum of understanding (MOU), including evaluation of outstanding challenges and planned corrective actions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Open

    Comments: In fiscal year 2011, we reviewed and reported on the extent to which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had made progress in addressing past coordination challenges between U.S. Border Patrol, an office within U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and across the Drug Enforcement Administration and Forest Service, according to northern border security partners. We found, among other things, that federal agency coordination to secure the northern border was improved, but partners cited ongoing challenges sharing information and resources for daily border security related to operations and investigations despite the efforts made to establish and update interagency agreements. In June 2012, DHS reported that the recently released DHS Northern Border Strategy emphasizes the importance of partnerships and coordination and discusses the benefits that can be garnered through collaboration and information sharing. DHS also reported that a National Special Agent in Charge/Chief Patrol Agent Advisory Council was established to enhance collaboration between Border Patrol and ICE, which includes addressing historical points of contention between the two components. While the strategy emphasizes and encourages coordination between Border Patrol and ICE, it does not specifically address compliance with the interagency memoranda of agreement, evaluation of longstanding challenges, or any planned corrective actions. In addition, the advisory council established does not provide DHS-level oversight as it is composed of ICE and Border Patrol officials. As of November 2013, DHS has not yet provided guidance and oversight for Border Patrol and ICE compliance with the provisions of the interagency memorandum of understanding, and DHS officials could not provide timeframes for addressing this recommendation. To fully address this recommendation, DHS needs to take action to specifically address long-standing coordination challenges and enforce DHS-level oversight of Border Patrol and ICE compliance with the interagency memoranda of agreement.

    Recommendation: To help ensure DHS is maximizing the benefits of its coordination efforts with northern border partners through interagency forums, documented agreements, and its resource planning process, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct CBP to develop policy and guidance necessary to identify, assess, and integrate the available partner resources in northern border sector security assessments and resource planning documents.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Open

    Comments: In fiscal year 2011, we reviewed and reported on the progress the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had made in securing the northern border and the extent to which DHS used partnerships and coordination efforts to address DHS's reported border security vulnerabilities. We found, among other things, that U.S. Border Patrol--a component of DHS's U.S. Customs and Border Protection--reported that 32 of the nearly 4,000 northern border miles in fiscal year 2010 had reached an acceptable level of security. Additionally, law enforcement resources available from DHS's northern border partners to address border security vulnerabilities were not reflected in Border Patrol's processes for assessing border security and resource requirements. In June 2012, CBP reported that the 2012-2016 Border Patrol Strategic Plan is focused on integration, which includes leveraging northern border partnerships and all available capabilities and tools to address threats. In January 2013, the CBP Integrated Planning Guidance (IPG) Fiscal Years 2015-2019 was released. CBP reported that the IPG strengthens CBP's planning capabilities and further implements the Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Accountability integrated business structure. CBP offices were directed to consider guidance in this IPG to inform requirements generation, capabilities prioritization, and coordination with the programming office to refine and validate program, project, and activity requirements. However, to fully address the recommendation, CBP must provide policy and guidance to ensure integration of partner resources beyond DHS components and the integration of planning outside of DHS. While the IPG discusses the integration of partner resources it is only within CBP and does not ensure that these resources are integrated into border security assessments and included in its northern border integrated mission analysis and resource planning.

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