Border Security: DHS's Progress and Challenges in Securing U.S. Borders

GAO-13-414T Published: Mar 14, 2013. Publicly Released: Mar 14, 2013.
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What GAO Found

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has reported progress in stemming illegal cross-border activity, but it could strengthen the assessment of its efforts. For example, since fiscal year 2011, DHS has used the number of apprehensions on the southwest border between ports of entry (POE) as an interim measure for border security. GAO reported in December 2012 that apprehensions decreased across the southwest border from fiscal years 2006 to 2011, which generally mirrored a decrease in estimated known illegal entries in each southwest border sector. CBP attributed this decrease in part to changes in the U.S. economy and increased resources for border security. Data reported by CBP's Office of Border Patrol (Border Patrol) show that total apprehensions across the southwest border increased from over 327,000 in fiscal year 2011 to about 357,000 in fiscal year 2012. It is too early to assess whether this increase indicates a change in the trend. GAO reported in December 2012 that the number of apprehensions provides information on activity levels but does not inform program results or resource allocation decisions. Border Patrol is in the process of developing performance goals and measures for assessing the progress of its efforts to secure the border between POEs, but it has not identified milestones and time frames for developing and implementing them, which GAO recommended that it do. DHS agreed and said that it plans to set a date for establishing such milestones and time frames by November 2013.

DHS law enforcement partners reported improvements in interagency coordination and oversight of intelligence and enforcement operations, but gaps remain. GAO reported in November 2010 that information sharing and communication among federal law enforcement officials had increased; however, gaps remained in ensuring law enforcement officials had access to daily threat information. GAO recommended that relevant federal agencies determine if more guidance is needed for federal land closures and that they ensure interagency agreements for coordinating information and integrating operations are further implemented. These agencies agreed and in January 2011, CBP issued a memorandum affirming the importance of federal partnerships to address border security threats on federal lands. While this is a positive step, to fully satisfy the intent of GAO's recommendation, DHS needs to take further action to monitor and uphold implementation of the existing interagency agreements.

Opportunities exist to improve DHS's management of border security assets. For example, DHS conceived the Secure Border Initiative Network as a surveillance technology and deployed such systems along 53 miles of Arizona's border. In January 2011, in response to performance, cost, and schedule concerns, DHS canceled future procurements, and developed the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan (Plan) for the remainder of the Arizona border. GAO reported in November 2011 that in developing the new Plan, CBP conducted an analysis of alternatives, but it had not documented the analysis justifying the specific types, quantities, and deployment locations of technologies proposed in the Plan, which GAO recommended that it do. DHS concurred with this recommendation. GAO has ongoing work in this area and expects to issue a report in fall 2013.

Why GAO Did This Study

At the end of fiscal year 2004, DHS had about 28,100 personnel assigned to patrol U.S. land borders and inspect travelers at air, land, and sea POEs, at a cost of about $5.9 billion. At the end of fiscal year 2011, DHS had about 41,400 personnel assigned to air, land, and sea POEs and along the border, at a cost of about $11.8 billion. DHS has reported that this stronger enforcement presence was one of several reasons why fewer people were attempting to illegally cross the border. However, challenges remain in securing the border. In recent years, GAO has reported on a variety of DHS border security programs and operations. As requested, this statement addresses some of the key issues and recommendations GAO has made in the following areas: (1) DHS's efforts to secure the border at and between POEs; (2) DHS interagency coordination and oversight of border security information sharing and enforcement efforts; and (3) DHS management of infrastructure, technology, and other assets used to secure the border. This statement is based on prior products GAO issued from January 2008 through February 2013, along with selected updates conducted in February 2013. For the selected updates, GAO reviewed information from DHS on actions it has taken to address prior GAO recommendations.

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While this statement contains no new recommendations, GAO has previously made recommendations to DHS to enhance border security. DHS has generally concurred with these recommendations and has taken actions, or has actions planned or under way, to address them.

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