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Highlights

Three agencies of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have primary responsibility for securing the nation's borders--the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Together, they enforce security across 7,500 miles of land border between the United States and Mexico and Canada, and protect more than 361 seaports and 95,000 miles of coastline. To fulfill their missions, these agencies deploy a variety of valuable air and marine assets. In this report, GAO analyzed (1) what efforts DHS has undertaken to facilitate coordination of the air and marine assets of the three agencies and (2) how the agencies' local air and marine units have, in selected areas, coordinated the use of assets and what challenges they faced.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security In order to help ensure that the use of available air and marine assets is effectively coordinated to meet border security needs, the Secretary of Homeland Security should provide guidance that clarifies the roles and responsibilities of USCG and CBP, the primary DHS agencies that employ air and marine assets, in their homeland security missions, as well as how asset use should be coordinated.
Closed - Implemented
In fiscal year 2005, we reviewed and reported on the need for better coordination of air and marine assets between the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). Since that time, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has provided guidance that helps ensure that air and marine assets are effectively coordinated, including clarifying the roles and responsibilities of USCG and CBP. On April 18, 2005, DHS issued Management Directive 0021, Aviation Concept of Operations. This directive provides a concept of operations for DHS aviation resources, including CBP Air and Marine Operations, CBP Office of Border Patrol Air and Marine Operations, and the USCG. As the directive notes, Air and Marine Operations had recently transferred to CBP from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and was in the process of integrating Border Patrol Air and Marine into its operations. DHS has not issued guidance for marine assets that is comparable to Management Directive 0021. However, the Department has issued strategic documents that address maritime operations, such as the Small Vessel Security Strategy, issued in April 2008. The Small Vessel Security Strategy outlines roles and responsibilities, relevant authorities, and existing interagency institutions for USCG and CBP, as well as other federal entities. In 2006, CBP and USCG chartered a Senior Guidance Team to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the two agencies. CPB and USCG coordination since 2006 has included, but is not limited to: operations, information sharing, acquisition, and training. The National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy is one example of a collaborative strategic document developed to ensure clarification of roles and responsibilities between these two agencies.
Department of Homeland Security In order to help ensure that the use of available air and marine assets is effectively coordinated to meet border security needs, the Secretary of Homeland Security should determine whether the Homeland Security Act's prohibition on diversion of USCG assets, or any similar restriction in appropriations laws, limits the ability of USCG to coordinate assets with other agencies, and if so, evaluate the merits, including the costs and benefits of proposing a change in relevant laws to Congress.
Closed - Implemented
In fiscal year 2005, we reviewed and reported on the coordination of air and marine assets between the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). In July 2009, USCG noted that since the issuance of our report, it determined that the Homeland Security Act does not in any way limit its ability to coordinate the use of its assets with other agencies. In addition, USCG noted that 6 U.S.C. 468 does not prohibit the agency from assisting other agencies outside its normal missions when needed, so long as such assistance does not impact accomplishing USCG statutory missions. In the case of maritime border security, USCG has primary responsibility among Department of Homeland Security components. USCG noted that it actively pursues these responsibilities by executing its statutory drug interdiction, migrant interdiction, ports, waterways and coastal security, defense readiness, and other homeland security missions. According to USCG, no change in this law is necessary.

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