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Highlights

Over the last 5 years, Border Patrol has nearly doubled the number of its agents on patrol, constructed hundreds of miles of border fence, and installed surveillance equipment on and near lands managed by the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture along the southwestern border. In so doing, the agency has had to comply with federal land management laws, and some have expressed concern that these laws may limit agents' abilities to detect and apprehend undocumented aliens. GAO was asked to examine (1) key land management laws Border Patrol operates under and how it and land management agencies coordinate their responsibilities under these laws; (2) how Border Patrol operations are affected by these laws; and (3) the extent to which land management agencies collect and use data related to the environmental effects of illegal activities, such as human trafficking and drug smuggling. GAO reviewed key land management laws, interviewed agents-in-charge at 26 Border Patrol stations responsible for patrolling federal southwest borderlands, and interviewed managers of these lands.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Interior 1. To improve the effectiveness of Border Patrol operations while also protecting cultural and natural resources on federal lands along the southwestern border, and to help expedite Border Patrol's access to federal lands, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should, when and where appropriate, (a) enter into agreements that provide for Customs and Border Protection to use its own resources to pay for or to conduct the required environmental and historic property assessments and (b) prepare programmatic National Environmental Policy Act documents for Border Patrol activities in areas where additional access may be needed.
Closed - Implemented
In 2012 and 2013, federal land management agencies entered into several agreements with the Department of Homeland Security that provide for Customs and Border Protection to use its own resources to pay for and to conduct the required environmental and historic property assessments. Such agreements, which are now in place for the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and Coronado National Forest, help expedite Border Patrol access on these federal land units. In addition, in 2013 Customs and Border Protection conducted programmatic environmental assessments (required by the National Environmental Policy Act) in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas for tactical infrastructure maintenance and repair along the southwestern border which consists of fences and gates, roads and bridges, drainage structures, observation zones, boat ramps, lighting and ancillary power systems, and remote video surveillance systems.
Department of Agriculture 2. To improve the effectiveness of Border Patrol operations while also protecting cultural and natural resources on federal lands along the southwestern border, and to help expedite Border Patrol's access to federal lands, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should, when and where appropriate, (a) enter into agreements that provide for Customs and Border Protection to use its own resources to pay for or to conduct the required environmental and historic property assessments and (b) prepare programmatic National Environmental Policy Act documents for Border Patrol activities in areas where additional access may be needed.
Closed - Implemented
In 2012 and 2013, federal land management agencies entered into several agreements with the Department of Homeland Security that provide for Customs and Border Protection to use its own resources to pay for and to conduct the required environmental and historic property assessments. Such agreements, which are now in place for the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and Coronado National Forest, help expedite Border Patrol access on these federal land units. In addition, in 2013 Customs and Border Protection conducted programmatic environmental assessments (required by the National Environmental Policy Act) in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas for tactical infrastructure maintenance and repair along the southwestern border which consists of fences and gates, roads and bridges, drainage structures, observation zones, boat ramps, lighting and ancillary power systems, and remote video surveillance systems.
Department of Homeland Security 3. To improve the effectiveness of Border Patrol operations while also protecting cultural and natural resources on federal lands along the southwestern border, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture, as DHS, Interior, and the Forest Service continue developing a national training module on environmental and cultural resource stewardship, should incorporate the input of Border Patrol agents and land managers into the design and development of training content, which may include training that is recurring, area-specific, and provided by land managers.
Closed - Implemented
According to a November 2011 memo from Interior's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Law Enforcement Security and Emergency Management, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol developed a national training module on environmental and cultural stewardship. The departments of Interior and Agriculture provided input and comment on the module as it was developed, and personnel from all three agencies at headquarters and field levels were involved. Border Patrol issued a directive in September 2011, requiring all agents to annually take the training. A review of the training module shows that its content emphasizes site-specific training and collaboration with land managers.
Department of the Interior 4. To improve the effectiveness of Border Patrol operations while also protecting cultural and natural resources on federal lands along the southwestern border, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture, as DHS, Interior, and the Forest Service continue developing a national training module on environmental and cultural resource stewardship, should incorporate the input of Border Patrol agents and land managers into the design and development of training content, which may include training that is recurring, area-specific, and provided by land managers.
Closed - Implemented
According to a November 2011 memo from Interior's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Law Enforcement Security and Emergency Management, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol developed a national training module on environmental and cultural stewardship. The departments of Interior and Agriculture provided input and comment on the module as it was developed, and personnel from all three agencies at headquarters and field levels were involved. Border Patrol issued a directive in September 2011, requiring all agents to annually take the training. A review of the training module shows that its content emphasizes site-specific training and collaboration with land managers.
Department of Homeland Security 5. To improve the effectiveness of Border Patrol operations while also protecting cultural and natural resources on federal lands along the southwestern border, and to help expedite Border Patrol's access to federal lands, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture should, when and where appropriate, (a) enter into agreements that provide for Customs and Border Protection to use its own resources to pay for or to conduct the required environmental and historic property assessments and (b) prepare programmatic National Environmental Policy Act documents for Border Patrol activities in areas where additional access may be needed.
Closed - Implemented
In 2012 and 2013, federal land management agencies entered into several agreements with the Department of Homeland Security that provide for Customs and Border Protection to use its own resources to pay for and to conduct the required environmental and historic property assessments. Such agreements, which are now in place for the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and Coronado National Forest, help expedite Border Patrol access on these federal land units. In addition, in 2013 Customs and Border Protection conducted programmatic environmental assessments (required by the National Environmental Policy Act) in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas for tactical infrastructure maintenance and repair along the southwestern border which consists of fences and gates, roads and bridges, drainage structures, observation zones, boat ramps, lighting and ancillary power systems, and remote video surveillance systems.
Department of Agriculture 6. To improve the effectiveness of Border Patrol operations while also protecting cultural and natural resources on federal lands along the southwestern border, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, the Interior, and Agriculture, as DHS, Interior, and the Forest Service continue developing a national training module on environmental and cultural resource stewardship, should incorporate the input of Border Patrol agents and land managers into the design and development of training content, which may include training that is recurring, area-specific, and provided by land managers.
Closed - Implemented
According to a November 2011 memo from Interior's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Law Enforcement Security and Emergency Management, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol developed a national training module on environmental and cultural stewardship. The departments of Interior and Agriculture provided input and comment on the module as it was developed, and personnel from all three agencies at headquarters and field levels were involved. Border Patrol issued a directive in September 2011, requiring all agents to annually take the training. A review of the training module shows that its content emphasizes site-specific training and collaboration with land managers.

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