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.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has taken steps to meet the intent of GAO's December 2010 recommendation by establishing formal coordination meetings and procedures between the Integrated Border Enforcement Team (IBET) and Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) programs and by issuing a 2016 policy directive related to deconfliction. During the course of GAO's fiscal year 2018 audit work, GAO met with DHS field officials from all operating locations along the northern border as well as officials from the government of Canada to obtain their perspectives on the IBET and BEST programs. DHS and Canadian officials have formal coordination meetings and procedures in each location, such as periodic meetings of BEST agency partners and Joint Management Teams overseeing IBET activities to deconflict ongoing activities and investigations between the two programs. DHS officials also identified nationwide and regional systems used to share information and deconflict investigations and activities as well as a DHS policy requiring the use of those systems-DHS Policy Directive 045-04, Department Policy Regarding Investigative Data and Event Deconfliction (Oct. 18, 2016). This policy directive related to deconfliction, along with the formal coordination meetings and procedures between the IBET and BEST programs help to prevent duplication of effort and help the efficient utilization of resources to strengthen DHS coordination efforts along the northern border.

    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

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    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 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. In October 2015, DHS officials stated that the Cross-Border Law Enforcement Advisory Committee may provide DHS-level oversight because both CBP and ICE officials are members of the committee. However, as of December 2018, DHS had not yet indicated how the committee may provide guidance and oversight to ensure Border Patrol and ICE compliance with the provisions of the interagency memorandum of understanding, and DHS could not provide timeframes for addressing this recommendation. Given the passage of time since we made this recommendation in 2010, and the remaining uncertainty about when and how DHS will provide oversight of Border Patrol and ICE compliance with the interagency memoranda of agreement, we are closing this recommendation as not implemented.

    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

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    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. Subsequently, CBP has provided documents that demonstrate CBP coordination efforts with northern border partners through forums, coordination mechanisms, and documented operations plans, but has no plans to include partner resources in planning documents. In June 2017, CBP reported that CBP has representation on the DHS-led northern border security threat assessment Integrated Product Team and will continue to work with DHS to inform and develop a resource planning strategy and among other things, will integrate available partner resources in northern border security. However, the IPG discusses the integration of partner resources 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. CBP has not provided evidence of policy and guidance necessary to identify, assess, and integrate available northern border partner resources in northern border security assessments and resource planning documents.

    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

 

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