Border Security:

Partnership Agreements and Enhanced Oversight Could Strengthen Coordination of Efforts on Indian Reservations

GAO-13-352: Published: Apr 5, 2013. Publicly Released: Apr 5, 2013.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is coordinating in a variety of ways with tribes, such as through joint operations and shared facilities and Operation Stonegarden--a DHS grant program intended to enhance coordination among local, tribal, territorial, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in securing United States borders. However, the Border Patrol and tribes face coordination challenges. Officials from five tribes reported information-sharing challenges with the Border Patrol, such as not receiving notification of federal activity on their lands. Border Patrol officials reported challenges navigating tribal rules and decisions. Border Patrol and DHS have existing agreements with some, but not all, tribes to address specific border security issues, such as for the establishment of a law enforcement center on tribal lands. These agreements could serve as models for developing additional agreements between the Border Patrol and other tribes on their specific border security coordination challenges. Written government-to-government agreements could assist Border Patrol and tribal officials with enhancing their coordination, consistent with practices for sustaining effective coordination. DHS established an office to coordinate the components' tribal outreach efforts, which has taken actions such as monthly teleconferences with DHS tribal liaisons to discuss tribal issues and programs, but does not have a mechanism for monitoring and overseeing outreach efforts, consistent with internal control standards. Such monitoring should be performed continually; ingrained in the agency's operations; and clearly documented in directives, policies, or manuals to help ensure operations are carried out as intended. Implementing an oversight mechanism could help enhance DHS's department-wide awareness of and accountability for border security coordination efforts with the tribes while identifying those areas that work well and any needing improvement.

Why GAO Did This Study

Individuals seeking to enter the United States illegally may attempt to avoid screening procedures at ports of entry by crossing the border in areas between these ports, including Indian reservations, many of which have been vulnerable to illicit cross-border threat activity, such as drug smuggling, according to DHS. GAO was asked to review DHS's efforts to coordinate border security activities on Indian reservations. This report examines DHS's efforts to coordinate with tribal governments to address border security threats and vulnerabilities on Indian reservations. GAO interviewed DHS officials at headquarters and conducted interviews with eight tribes, selected based on factors such as proximity to the border, and the corresponding DHS field offices that have a role in border security for these Indian reservations. While GAO cannot generalize its results from these interviews to all Indian reservations and field offices along the border, they provide examples of border security coordination issues. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in December 2012. Information that DHS, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of the Interior (DOI) deemed sensitive has been redacted.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DHS examine the benefits of government-to-government agreements with tribes and develop and implement a mechanism to monitor border security coordination efforts with tribes. DHS concurred with our recommendations.

For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or gamblerr@gao.gov

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December of 2012, we reported on the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) efforts to coordinate with tribal governments to address border security threats and vulnerabilities on Indian reservations. Among other things, we found that Border Patrol--DHS's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) component charged with securing U.S. borders--and tribes face coordination challenges, such as information-sharing challenges. While Border Patrol has existing agreements with some tribes to address specific border security issues, these agreements could serve as models for developing additional agreements between the Border Patrol and other tribes on their specific border security coordination challenges. As a result, we recommended that DHS examine the benefits of government-to-government agreements with tribes. In response to this recommendation, between March and October 2014, CBP's State, Local and Tribal Liaison Office and DHS officials met with approximately 20 federally recognized tribes that may be affected by border security threats, including the Saint Regis Mohawk and Tohono O'odham tribes, to discuss any need for and the potential benefits of government-to-government written agreements to address border security threats. DHS reported two key lessons learned from these meetings: (1) there is no overwhelming demand from the tribal governments to enter into written agreements with the U.S. government, and (2) tribal governments understand their rights as sovereign nations to request written government-to-government agreements with the U.S. government to address border security threats and other issues. These actions are consistent with the recommendation and we consider the recommendation closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: To enhance DHS-tribal coordination on border security on Indian reservations, including DHS's monitoring and oversight of these coordination efforts, the Secretary of Homeland Security should examine, or direct CBP to examine, as appropriate, the potential benefits of government-to-government written agreements with tribes facing border security threats.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2012, we reported that DHS and tribes use a variety of methods to coordinate border security such as conducting joint operations and participating in a border security coordination program, but establishment of an oversight mechanism could enhance the effectiveness of DHS's border security coordination with tribes. In response to this recommendation, the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Office of Intergovernmental Affairs (IGA) monitors department-wide consultation with the tribes, including border security coordination, through a variety of mechanisms. The IGA's Tribal Affairs Program began holding monthly teleconferences with the tribes in August 2014 to ensure that the tribes and DHS can directly communicate and exchange information. In addition to this outreach, DHS assigned component government liaisons at its major components and offices, who also work with the Tribal Affairs Program to hold monthly teleconferences with the tribes. DHS components with border security interests, such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP), can use these teleconferences to regularly coordinate with the tribes on border security issues and discuss best practices regarding agreements that could strengthen collaboration with the tribes. Further, in 2014 the Tribal Affairs Director revitalized the DHS Tribal Consultation Policy Working Group, which is an additional mechanism for the department to discuss department-wide efforts, policies, and programs affecting the tribes, including border security issues, as well as areas for further consultation with the tribal governments. The charter for this group was planned to be completed in July 2015. In addition to these actions taken to monitor DHS's department-wide tribal border security coordination efforts, DHS's Tribal Affairs Director developed a plan in March 2015 for implementing Executive Order 13175: Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments, which describes several action items for strengthening and internally monitoring DHS's coordination with the tribes, including border security issues. In particular, this plan calls for the development of an integrated cross-component data-sharing process by October 2015 to maintain point-of-contact lists for tribal government and tribal association officials and track department-wide communications to these officials. This plan also describes the establishment of a single department-wide reporting tool for implementing Executive Order 13175 by March 2016, the development of a voluntary DHS tribal liaison credentialing or certification process by March 2016, as well as the adoption of a DHS directive, as outlined in a 2009 DHS Deputy Secretary memorandum, by October 2015 requiring the designation of DHS component tribal liaisons. These actions should assist the IGA in monitoring department-wide border security coordination with the tribes and, as a result, can assist with reinforcing agency accountability for its collaborative efforts

    Recommendation: To enhance DHS-tribal coordination on border security on Indian reservations, including DHS's monitoring and oversight of these coordination efforts, the Secretary of Homeland Security should develop and implement a mechanism to monitor DHS's department-wide border security coordination efforts with tribes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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