Southwest Border Security: Actions Needed to Enhance CBP's Maintenance of Roads Used for Its Operations

GAO-18-11 Published: Oct 04, 2017. Publicly Released: Oct 04, 2017.
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Highlights

What GAO Found

U.S. Border Patrol, within the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), generally has access to public roads and has certain processes and authorities to use other federal, state, local, tribal, and private owned roads for its operations. CBP may enter into arrangements or agreements to address maintenance of certain federal, state, local, and private roads, but CBP has not consistently documented these arrangements, or shared them with all relevant Border Patrol sector officials. This could hinder maintenance efforts and, therefore, Border Patrol's access to the roads. Six of the nine southwest Border Patrol sectors reported that they do not document all road maintenance arrangements and agreements. Developing a policy and guidance for documenting maintenance arrangements and agreements, as needed, could help all sectors more consistently work with landowners to address road maintenance. CBP has two categories for the roads it maintains: (1) roads that CBP owns and has a right to maintain (owned operational roads) and (2) roads that CBP does not own, but may maintain through a license or permit (non-owned operational roads). Border Patrol has established a process for prioritizing maintenance of owned operational roads, but it has not clearly documented the process and criteria for non-owned operational roads, or shared this information with sector officials. Moreover, no sector official GAO spoke with reported being aware of the process and criteria. By clearly documenting and communicating the process and criteria it uses to prioritize non-owned operational roads, Border Patrol could enable sectors to more adequately plan for and better anticipate funding to meet road maintenance needs.

Conditions on a Road in Arizona Used by Border Patrol

Conditions on a Road in Arizona Used by Border Patrol

Border Patrol sector officials reported negative effects from using public roads in poor condition that they cannot maintain, such as limited road access and poor relations with local governments and border communities that attribute the poor road conditions to Border Patrol's regular use. However, the full extent of these effects is unknown due to lack of data on Border Patrol's use of non-owned roads. While CBP officials discussed options for addressing maintenance of non-federal public roads, including a specific appropriation or a grant program, it has not assessed the feasibility of these or other options. Assessing the feasibility of options, including a review of data needed to show Border Patrol's reliance on non-owned roads, including public roads, could lead to a possible solution for enhancing Border Patrol's operations and its community relationships.

Why GAO Did This Study

To secure the southwest border between ports of entry, Border Patrol uses approximately 5,200 miles of roads, most of which are owned by other entities, both private and public. CBP estimates spending $12.5 million in fiscal year 2016 to maintain and repair roads Border Patrol uses for its operations, including roads CBP does not own.

GAO was asked to review Border Patrol's use and maintenance of roads for its border security operations. This report examines the extent to which (1) CBP has processes and authorities to access and maintain roads for its security operations and (2) CBP's operations are affected by its use of public roads it cannot maintain, and options CBP could consider to address any needed maintenance. GAO selected three southwest border sectors to visit based on the sectors' total mileage of non-owned roads and number of apprehensions of illegal border crossers. GAO interviewed officials from Border Patrol, and from selected federal, state, local, tribal, and private and community organizations. The information collected from these entities is not generalizable, but provides valuable insights.

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Recommendations

GAO recommends that CBP develop policy and guidance for documenting arrangements with landowners, as needed, and share the arrangements with its sectors; document and communicate the process and criteria for prioritizing funding of non-owned operational roads; and assess the feasibility of options, including data needs, for addressing the maintenance of non-federal public roads. DHS concurred with the recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Customs and Border Protection The Commissioner of CBP should develop and implement a policy and related guidance for documenting arrangements with landowners, as needed, on Border Patrol's maintenance of roads it uses to conduct its operations, and share these documented arrangements with its sectors. (Recommendation 1)
Closed - Implemented
In October 2017, CBP concurred with our recommendation and in response stated that it would issue guidance to sector personnel in regards to maintenance of assets on private land. In August 2018, CBP provided us with a copy of its Tactical Infrastructure (TI) Real Property Requirements Management Policy which, among other things, documents the authority of the TI Program Manager of Record over all TI real property requirements, actions, activities and resource allocations that will be implemented by the Border Patrol and Air and Marine Program Management Office, including those related to road maintenance. CBP also provided us with documentation demonstrating sector's access to arrangements with landowners related to the roads it uses for its operations in its Facilities and Infrastructure Tracking Tool. The development of the TI Real Property Requirements Management Policy could better provide opportunities to owners who want formalized arrangements, and enhance the sectors' ability to plan for road maintenance requirements. Further, sharing documented agreements with Border Patrol sectors could help Border Patrol work with road and land owners more consistently to address road maintenance.
United States Customs and Border Protection The Commissioner of CBP should clearly document the process and criteria for making decisions on funding non-owned operational requirements and communicate this process to Border Patrol sectors. (Recommendation 2)
Closed - Implemented
In October 2017, we reported on Border Patrol's use and maintenance of other federal, state, local, tribal, and private roads for its border security operations. We found that Border Patrol established a process for prioritizing maintenance of owned operational roads, but had not clearly documented the process and criteria for non-owned operational roads, or shared this information with sector officials. We recommended that CBP should clearly document the process and criteria for making decisions on funding non-owned operational requirements and communicate this process to Border Patrol sectors. CBP concurred with this recommendation and stated that Border Patrol would use the Capability Gap Analysis Process to validate its access and mobility requirements to create national priorities through requirements planning completed at the station level. In its response to the recommendation, CBP also reported that Border Patrol would outline the process and criteria for making decisions on funding non-owned operational requirements and communicate this process to Border Patrol Sectors. In October 2019, CBP reported that it continued to work on enhancing its existing prioritization strategy, which includes exploring implementation of a new prioritization modeling tool and methodology. In January 2022, Border Patrol officials provided us with a demonstration of its model that uses quantitative analysis and qualitative field insight to depict the Border Patrol's Mission Essential Tasks (METs) across any area of operations. According to these officials, Border Patrol is using the model to depict the overall balance of constraints and enablers that affect a station's current potential to perform its METs within its area of responsibility. Officials added that this model is helping Border Patrol determine what resources, including technology and roads, would benefit Border Patrol's operations. As Border Patrol is demonstrating that it is using available data to assess the effectiveness of and inform its investment decisions for assets such as non-owned operational requirements, we closed this recommendation as implemented.
United States Customs and Border Protection The Commissioner of CBP should assess the feasibility of options for addressing the maintenance of nonfederal public roads. This should include a review of data needed to determine the extent of its reliance on non-owned roads for border security operations. (Recommendation 3)
Closed - Implemented
In October 2017, we reported on Border Patrol's use and maintenance of other federal, state, local, tribal, and private roads for its border security operations. We found that the full extent of negative effects of Border Patrol sector officials' use of non-federal public roads they cannot maintain is unknown due to lack of data on Border Patrol's use of non-owned roads. We also found that while CBP officials have discussed options for addressing maintenance of these roads, including a specific appropriation or a grant program, CBP has not assessed the feasibility of these or other options. We therefore recommended that the Commissioner of CBP assess the feasibility of options for addressing the maintenance of nonfederal public roads, including a review of data needed to determine the extent of its reliance on non-owned roads for border security operations. CBP concurred with this recommendation, and stated that it would review data on the extent of Border Patrol's use of non-owned roads for border security operations and develop a strategy that outlines options and assesses the feasibility of maintaining roads, as appropriate. In August 2019, Border Patrol finalized a decision memorandum which addressed the maintenance of non-federal public roads, as we recommended. The decision memorandum provides details on Border Patrol's assessment, including potential liability and resource considerations. Based on Border Patrol's assessment, it recommends that Congress establish a grant program through the Department of Transportation, under which counties, states, and municipalities may seek funding for the maintenance and repair of public roads along U.S. borders. Establishing this or a similar funding mechanism will enable states and locals to better maintain roads Border Patrol uses but does not own for its border security operations.

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