Arizona Border Surveillance Technology:

More Information on Plans and Costs Is Needed before Proceeding

GAO-12-22: Published: Nov 4, 2011. Publicly Released: Nov 4, 2011.

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In recent years, nearly half of all annual apprehensions of illegal aliens along the entire Southwest border with Mexico have occurred along the Arizona border. Keeping illegal flows of people and drugs under control remains a top priority for the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). In 2005, the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) was conceived as a surveillance technology to create a "virtual fence" along the border. After spending nearly $1 billion, DHS deployed SBInet systems along 53 miles of Arizona's border that represent the highest risk for illegal entry. In January 2011, in response to concerns regarding SBInet's performance, cost, and schedule, DHS cancelled future procurements. CBP developed the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan (Plan) for the remainder of the Arizona border. Funding for this Plan for fiscal year 2012 is $242 million. GAO was requested to assess the extent to which CBP (1) has the information needed to support and implement the Plan and (2) estimated life-cycle costs for future investments in accordance with best practices. GAO analyzed Plan documents and cost estimates, compared those estimates with best practices, and interviewed CBP officials.

CBP does not have the information needed to fully support and implement its Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan in accordance with DHS and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance. In developing the Plan, CBP conducted an analysis of alternatives and outreach to potential vendors. However, CBP has not documented the analysis justifying the specific types, quantities, and deployment locations of border surveillance technologies proposed in the Plan. Best practices for developing and managing costs indicate that a business case analysis should be rigorous enough that independent parties can review it and clearly understand why a particular alternative was chosen to support mission requirements. Without documentation of the analysis, there is no way to verify the process CBP followed, identify how the underlying analyses were used, assess the validity of the decisions made, or justify the funding requested for the Plan. CBP officials also have not yet defined the mission benefits expected from implementing the new Plan. GAO has previously reported that a solid business case providing an understanding of the potential return of large investments can be helpful to decision makers for determining whether continued investment is warranted after deployment. Defining the expected benefit could help improve CBP's ability to assess the effectiveness of the Plan as it is implemented. CBP does not intend to assess and address operational issues regarding the effectiveness and suitability of SBInet, steps that could provide CBP with information to help make decisions regarding alternatives for implementing the Plan. OMB guidance suggests that a post-implementation review occur when a system has been in operation for 6 months or immediately following investment termination. Such a review could help CBP make the most effective use of existing SBInet systems that, in connection with the Plan, could build a comprehensive and integrated approach for surveillance technology along the entire Arizona border. CBP's 10-year life-cycle cost estimate for the Plan of $1.5 billion is based on a rough order of magnitude analysis, and agency officials were unable to determine a level of confidence in their estimate as best practices suggest. Specifically, GAO's review of the estimate concluded that the estimate reflected substantial features of best practices, being both comprehensive and accurate, but it did not sufficiently meet other characteristics of a high-quality cost estimate, such as credibility, because it did not identify a level of confidence or quantify the impact of risks. GAO and OMB guidance emphasize that reliable cost estimates are important for program approval and continued receipt of annual funding. In addition, because CBP was unable to determine a level of confidence in its estimate, it will be difficult for CBP to determine what levels of contingency funding may be needed to cover risks associated with implementing new technologies along the remaining Arizona border. Thus, it will be difficult for CBP to provide reasonable assurance that its cost estimate is reliable and that its budget request for fiscal year 2012 and beyond is realistic and sufficient. A robust cost estimate--one that includes a level of confidence and quantifies the impact of risk--would help ensure that CBP's future technology deployments have sufficient funding levels related to the relative risks. GAO recommends that CBP document the analysis justifying the technologies proposed in the Plan, determine its mission benefits, conduct a post-implementation review of SBInet and determine a more robust life-cycle cost estimate for the Plan. DHS concurred with the recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In January 2013, CBP released the results of the SBInet Block 1 Post Implementation Review (PIR), an assessment of the performance of its two SBInet surveillance system locations at Tucson and Ajo. The PIR concluded that CBP's SBInet surveillance system has enhanced overall situational awareness, improved agent safety, and been operationally available and effective with costs consistent with those anticipated for the system. The PIR also made five recommendations for CBP to improve future operational assessments of its SBInet surveillance system and to plan for new acquisition sensor deployments. CBP officials stated the as of May 2013, CBP is in the process of documenting and reviewing each recommendation outlined in the PIR, and intends to document its plans to address those recommendations that OTIA and the Office of Border Patrol determine need corrective action. In addition, the PIR concluded that as of January 2013, six of the nine recommendations outlined in the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command's (ATEC) operational test have either been addressed or are in the process of being addressed. CBP officials stated that the agency plans to take actions to address the remaining three recommendations. To fully address our recommendation, CBP needs more fully assess the costs and benefits of addressing the remaining issues identified by the PIR and ATEC test.

    Recommendation: To increase the likelihood of successful implementation of the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan and maximize the effectiveness of technology already deployed, the Commissioner of CBP should take the following step in planning the agency's new technology approach: conduct a post-implementation review and operational assessment of SBInet, including consideration of the Army Test and Evaluation Command's (ATEC) test results, and assess the costs and benefits of addressing the issues identified to help ensure the security of the 53 miles already covered by SBInet and enhance security on the Arizona border.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Customs and Border Protection

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: In April 2013, CBP issued its Multi-Year Investment and Management Plan for Border Security Fencing, Infrastructure, and Technology for Fiscal Years 2014 through 2017, which identifies mission benefits to be achieved by all surveillance technologies (e.g., cameras or sensors) to be deployed under the Plan. According to CBP officials, the majority of these technologies will provide the mission benefits of improved situational awareness and agent safety. CBP has also made some progress in identifying key attributes for metrics to assess implementation of the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan (Plan) but it has not yet identified and applied attributes for metrics for all technologies under the Plan. To fully address our recommendation, CBP needs to identify and apply key attributes for metrics.

    Recommendation: To increase the likelihood of successful implementation of the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan and maximize the effectiveness of technology already deployed, the Commissioner of CBP should take the following step in planning the agency's new technology approach: determine the mission benefits to be derived from implementation of the plan and develop and apply key attributes for metrics to assess program implementation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Customs and Border Protection

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DHS concurred with the recommendation but, subsequently, CBP officials stated that it is not planning further analyses or additional documentation given that officials consider their analyses to be sufficiently documented in the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan (the Plan). As of March 2014, CBP had awarded 5 out of 7 technology contracts. For the remaining two technologies, CBP plans to award the contracts in July 2014 and in March 2015. As CBP has moved forward in awarding contracts for the Plan's technology programs and does not plan to conduct further analyses, we have closed this recommendation as not implemented.

    Recommendation: To increase the likelihood of successful implementation of the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan and maximize the effectiveness of technology already deployed, the Commissioner of CBP should take the following step in planning the agency's new technology approach: ensure that the underlying analyses of the Plan are documented in accordance with DHS guidance and internal controls standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Customs and Border Protection

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with the recommendation but, subsequently, Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition (OTIA) officials told us that CBP no longer intends to develop a Life-cycle Cost Estimate (LCCE) for the Plan that meets all best practices. OTIA officials stated that they used a risk-based approach to improve cost-estimating certainty and confidence by focusing on the LCCEs for the Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT) and Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS) programs, which compose 90 percent of the estimated costs for the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan (the Plan). According to the officials, developing a LCCE for the Plan that followed all best practices at this point in the acquisition cycle would not contribute much cost management benefit because a number of programs are under contract and units were being deployed to the field. In addition, CBP developed cost estimates for the IFT and RVSS programs, in January and March 2012, respectively, and updated the cost estimate for the Plan in June 2013. However, these estimates do not fully meet cost-estimating best practices. Specifically, CBP partially documented the data used in the cost model for the IFT's LCCE and fully documented the cost model for the RVSS' LCCE. CBP also conducted a sensitivity analysis and risk and uncertainty analysis to determine the level of confidence in both LCCEs so that contingency funding could be established relative to quantified risk. In June 2013, CBP revised the cost estimate for the Plan but the revised estimate does not fully address our concerns. For example, the IFT and RVSS compose over 90 percent of the Plan's cost in the June 2013 cost estimate; however, CBP has not independently verified its cost estimates for these two programs with independent cost estimates and reconciled any differences with each program's respective LCCE, consistent with best practices. Furthermore, the remainder of the June 2013 cost estimate is not fully documented for the Plan's other five programs, consistent with best practices. For example, the estimates for the other five programs are not fully documented because they are provided as summary program costs without detailed descriptions. To fully address our recommendation, CBP needs to independently verify the IFT and RVSS LCCCEs.

    Recommendation: To increase the reliability of CBP's Cost Estimate for the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan, the Commissioner of CBP should update its cost estimate for the Plan using best practices, so that the estimate is comprehensive, accurate, well-documented, and credible. Specifically, the CBP's Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition (OTIA) program office should (1) fully document data used in the cost model; (2) conduct a sensitivity analysis and risk and uncertainty analysis to determine a level of confidence in the estimate so that contingency funding can be established relative to quantified risk; and (3) independently verify the new life-cycle cost estimate with an independent cost estimate and reconcile any differences.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Customs and Border Protection

 

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