Secure Border Initiative Fiscal Year 2008 Expenditure Plan Shows Improvement, but Deficiencies Limit Congressional Oversight and DHS Accountability

GAO-08-739R: Published: Jun 26, 2008. Publicly Released: Jun 26, 2008.

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In November 2005, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the launch of Secure Border Initiative (SBI), a multiyear, multibillion-dollar program aimed at securing U.S. borders and reducing illegal immigration. Elements of SBI are carried out by several organizations within DHS. One component is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) SBI program office, which is responsible for developing a comprehensive border protection system using people; technology, known as SBInet; and tactical infrastructure (TI)--pedestrian and vehicle fencing; roads; and lighting. Initially, the focus of SBI is on the U.S. southwest border areas, between the ports of entry, that CBP has designated as most in need of enhanced border security because of serious vulnerabilities. In September 2006, CBP awarded a prime contract to the Boeing Company for 3 years, with three additional 1-year options. As the prime contractor, Boeing is responsible for acquiring, deploying, and sustaining selected SBInet technology and tactical infrastructure projects, and for providing supply chain management for selected tactical infrastructure projects. For fiscal years 2005 through 2008, Congress appropriated more than $2.7 billion for the SBI program. For fiscal year 2009, the President's budget includes a request for an additional $775 million for SBI. The Fiscal Year 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act required DHS to submit to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees an expenditure plan for the department's efforts to establish a security barrier along the borders of the United States, including pedestrian and vehicle fencing as well as other forms of tactical infrastructure and technology. This plan was to address 15 legislative conditions and was submitted to Congress on March 31, 2008. As required by the act, we reviewed the plan and on April 7 and April 10, 2008, briefed staff of the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees, respectively, on our results.

The SBI fiscal year 2008 expenditure plan, including related documentation and program officials' statements, satisfied seven legislative conditions, partially satisfied seven legislative conditions, and did not satisfy one legislative condition. The SBI expenditure plan is intended to provide Congress with the information needed to effectively oversee the program and hold DHS accountable for program results. Satisfying the conditions is important since the Fiscal Year 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act required an expenditure plan that satisfies the 15 conditions summarized above to be submitted to and approved by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees before the agency could obligate $650 million of the approximately $1.2 billion appropriated for CBP fencing, infrastructure and technology. Satisfying the conditions is also important to minimize the program's exposure to cost, schedule, and performance risks. The fiscal year 2008 plan states that it addresses our February 2007 recommendation that the plan include explicit and measurable commitments relative to the capabilities, schedule, costs, and benefits associated with individual program activities. However, based on our review, while the 2008 plan is more detailed than the 2007 plan, it does not provide detailed justification for all planned SBI expenditures, nor does it permit progress against program commitments to be adequately measured and disclosed. In addition, the 2008 plan does not clearly demonstrate how specific CBP SBI activities link with the DHS Secure Border Strategy and further the objectives of DHS's overall border strategy, nor does it provide Congress with reasonable assurance that funding is used for the highest priority requirements.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The fiscal year 2009 Secure Border Initiative (SBI) expenditure plan addressed GAO's June 2008 recommendation. GAO's review of the fiscal year 2009 SBI expenditure plan (see GAO-09-274R) found that the plan: (1) Described how projects align with and contribute directly to the achievement of the goal in the DHS Secure Border Strategic Plan "to develop and deploy the optimal mix of personnel, infrastructure, technology, and response capabilities to identify, classify, and interdict cross-border violators;" (2)Provided a description of how SBI allocates funding to those areas it deems to be of highest priority through the CBP Resource Allocation Plan, which is used to form the President's budget request to Congress; and (3) Described how the U.S. Border Patrol's planning and operational requirements process informs the allocation of funds for the deployment of the highest-priority SBInet technology and SBI TI activities.

    Recommendation: The U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Secure Border Initiative Executive Director should ensure that future expenditure plans include an explicit description of how activities will further the objectives of SBI, as defined in the DHS Secure Border Strategic Plan, and how the plan allocates funding to the highest priority border security needs to provide Congress with information it needs to oversee the program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection


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