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Homeland Security/Law Enforcement: Border Security (2012-47)

Delaying proposed investments for future acquisitions of border surveillance technology until the Department of Homeland Security better defines and measures benefits and estimates life-cycle costs could help ensure the most effective use of future program funding.

Action:

To increase the likelihood of successful implementation of the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan, minimize performance risks associated with the new approach, help justify program funding, and increase the reliability of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) cost estimate, the Commissioner of CBP should determine the mission benefits to be derived from implementation of the plan.

Progress:

As GAO recommended in November 2011, CBP has identified mission benefits to be derived from implementing the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan (Plan). In April 2013, CBP issued its Multi-Year Investment and Management Plan for Border Security Fencing, Infrastructure, and Technology for Fiscal Years 2014 – 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, the majority of these technologies will provide the mission benefits of improved situational awareness and agent safety. Furthermore, according to CBP’s Multi-Year Investment and Management Plan for Border Security Fencing, Infrastructure, and Technology for Fiscal Years 2014 – 2017, the technologies deployed or planned for deployment as part of the Plan are intended to help enhance the ability of Border Patrol agents to detect, identify, deter, and respond to threats along the border. CBP’s identification of mission benefits will help position CBP to assess its progress in implementing the Plan and the effectiveness of the Plan’s technologies in achieving their intended goals.

Implementing Entity:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Action:

To increase the likelihood of successful implementation of the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan, minimize performance risks associated with the new approach, help justify program funding, and increase the reliability of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) cost estimate, the Commissioner of CBP should determine the mission benefits to be derived from implementation of the plan and develop and apply key attributes for metrics to assess program implementation.

Progress:

CBP agreed with the recommendation and has addressed it. Specifically, as GAO recommended in November 2011, CBP has determined the intended mission benefits from deploying surveillance technologies along the southwest border, and developed and applied metrics to assess the contributions of these technologies. The U.S. Border Patrol, within CBP, expanded its 2011 Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan to the Southwest Border Technology Plan (Plan) in 2014. CBP identified improved situational awareness and agent safety, among other things, as the intended mission benefits from the majority of these technologies.

In November 2014, CBP identified a set of potential key attributes for performance metrics for all technologies to be deployed under the Plan. As of March 2019, Border Patrol is able to generate a performance report on how surveillance technologies have assisted agents during operations, including Border Patrol apprehensions. Border Patrol officials also described how they use a surveillance capability score to represent, among other things, the combined contributions of individual technology assets in a given area. Border Patrol officials stated that the report and surveillance capability score comprise Border Patrol's metrics for assessing the performance of surveillance technologies. Taking this recommended action will help those Border Patrol officials assessing the contributions of these technologies, including when determining future resource investments.

 

Implementing Entity:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Action:

To increase the likelihood of successful implementation of the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan (Plan), minimize performance risks associated with the new approach, help justify program funding, and increase the reliability of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) cost estimate, the Commissioner of CBP should update its cost estimate for the plan using best practices.

Progress:

CBP has taken significant steps toward updating cost estimates for the Plan using best practices, as GAO first recommended in November 2011. CBP provided cost estimates for the Integrated Fixed Tower and Remote Video Surveillance System programs, the two highest cost programs in the Plan, in February and March 2012, respectively. In March 2014, GAO found that CBP developed these estimates in a way that at least partially met best practices; however, the estimates had not been verified with independent cost estimates, as called for in the 2009 GAO Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide. GAO recommended in its March 2014 report that CBP verify the life-cycle cost estimates for the programs with independent cost estimates and reconcile any differences to better ensure the reliability of the estimates. 

In May 2016, CBP officials stated that the Department of Homeland Security's Cost Analysis Division (CAD) had started piloting an independent cost estimate for the Remote Video Surveillance System program. CBP selected this program for the pilot because these technologies would be deployed along the border, expanding the program beyond Arizona, and thus would benefit most from having an independent cost estimate. CAD approved its independent cost estimate for the program in November 2016, and according to CBP officials, CBP finalized the life-cycle cost estimate and reconciled it with the independent cost estimate in March 2017. CBP reported that the component acquisition executive approved the reconciliation estimate in September 2017. In November 2017, GAO reviewed the approved life-cycle cost estimate and independent cost estimate and found that they met the intent of GAO's recommendations.

That same month CBP officials confirmed that the agency does not plan to conduct an independent cost estimate for the Integrated Fixed Tower program, noting that there are no plans to expand the program and that they believe it would not provide any value as CBP is in the deployment stage of the program. GAO concurs given there are no current plans to expand the program.

In November 2017, CBP officials reported that they plan to continue to use best practices to guide their cost estimating methods for future technology investments. CBP's efforts have helped to position the agency to better ensure the reliability of its cost estimates for border security technology investments. It will be important for CBP to continue following through with best practices for cost estimates, including the use of independent cost estimates, to justify program funding and to ensure the reliability of its cost estimates for technology investments.

Implementing Entity:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Action:

Congress may wish to consider limiting future program funding until U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has more fully defined the benefits and costs of its Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan.

Progress:

To limit future program funding for the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan (Plan)as GAO suggested in February 2012, legislation was enacted for fiscal years 2013 and 2014. Specifically, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2013 rescinded $73.2 million from funds appropriated for the Plan in fiscal years 2011 and 2012. The explanatory statement accompanying the fiscal year 2013 DHS Appropriations Act indicated that these funds were to be applied to CBP Air and Marine operations to provide immediate border security operational benefit, while enabling CBP to maintain its Integrated Fixed Tower investments and deployments in accordance with planned delays in its original time lines. For fiscal year 2014, the Senate Appropriations Committee proposed a rescission from CBP’s border security fencing, infrastructure, and technology (BSFIT) account, under which the Plan is funded. Specifically, in the Senate report accompanying the DHS appropriations bill for fiscal year 2014, the Committee noted that the bill would rescind $61.8 million in unobligated balances from prior-year appropriations for the BSFIT account because of testing and deployment concerns regarding the Integrated Fixed Towers. In particular, the Committee noted concerns about deploying the system before it has been proven to work in real-life situations and indicated that the bill would prohibit deploying the system until it has been proven to work. The enacted rescission under the Consolidated Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2014 was approximately $67.5 million from unobligated prior-year balances for BSFIT.

Implementing Entity:

Congress
  • portrait of
    • Rebecca Gambler
    • Director, Homeland Security and Justice
    • gamblerr@gao.gov
    • (202) 512-8777