Secure Border Initiative: Technology Deployment Delays Persist and the Impact of Border Fencing Has Not Been Assessed

GAO-09-896 Published: Sep 09, 2009. Publicly Released: Sep 17, 2009.
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Securing the nation's borders from illegal entry of aliens and contraband, including terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, continues to be a major challenge. In November 2005, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the launch of the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), a multiyear, multibillion dollar program aimed at securing U.S. borders and reducing illegal immigration. Within DHS, U.S. Custom and Border Protection's (CBP) SBI program is responsible for developing a comprehensive border protection system using technology, known as SBInet, and tactical infrastructure--fencing, roads, and lighting. GAO was asked to provide periodic updates on the status of the program. This report addresses (1) the extent to which CBP has implemented SBInet and the impact of delays that have occurred, and (2) the extent to which CBP has deployed tactical infrastructure and assessed its results. To do this work, GAO reviewed program schedules, status reports, and previous GAO work; interviewed DHS and CBP officials, among others; and visited three SBI sites where initial technology or fencing had been deployed at the time of GAO's review.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Customs and Border Protection To improve the quality of information available to allocate resources and determine tactical infrastructure's contribution to effective control of the border, the Commissioner of CBP should conduct a cost-effective evaluation of the impact of tactical infrastructure on effective control of the border.
Closed – Implemented
In April 2010, the Homeland Security Institute (HSI) began work on a cost-effective evaluation of the impact of tactical infrastructure on effective control of the border, in response to GAO's recommendation. In February 2012 HSI presented an interim report on this analysis to the DHS Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition (OTIA) leadership during which GAO was present. Based on the interim report, OTIA leadership determined that additional data needed to be obtained to increase the level of confidence in the assessment. OTIA also determined that to assess the cost effectiveness of tactical infrastructure on border security, the HSI team needed additional data collection and analysis of the Border Patrol operations history over an extended period of time. Specifically, because of the complexity of determining an analytical methodology for measuring the mix of deployed resources, engagement of peer reviewers and collecting a sufficient amount of data to ensure a creditable Return on Investment (ROI) analysis, HSI estimated that an additional 3-5 years of operational history would be required. OTIA tasked HSI to continue with the next phase of the analysis that will specifically address the ROI analysis associated with deployment of tactical infrastructure (fencing) on the border. CBP has taken and continues to take steps to address this recommendation to evaluate the impact of tactical infrastructure. Based on the interim assessment, CBP should be better positioned to understand the impacts of tactical infrastructure on border security and gathering and analyzing additional data over the next 3-5 years should allow them to deepen this understanding and, as a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

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