Border Infrastructure: Actions Needed to Improve Information on Facilities and Capital Planning at Land Border Crossings

GAO-19-534 Published: Jul 11, 2019. Publicly Released: Jul 11, 2019.
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Fast Facts

U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilitates trade and travel at the nation’s 167 land border crossings. CBP and the General Services Administration own or lease these facilities. Many were built over 70 years ago and struggle to keep up with the usage demanded of them.

We found that CBP doesn't have complete information on infrastructure conditions at these crossings. For instance, it only assessed 4 of its 40 crossings between 2016 and 2018. Additionally, both agencies assess conditions at GSA-owned land border crossings but don't consistently share or use each other’s information.

We recommended that CBP and GSA address these issues.

The CBP Passenger Vehicle Inspection Facility at the Tornillo-Guadalupe land border crossing in Texas includes license plate readers that help process inbound vehicles.

Photo of the border facility.

Photo of the border facility.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported infrastructure constraints at land border crossings including limited inspection capacity, technology challenges, and security limitations. However, CBP does not have complete information on infrastructure conditions at all land border crossings. Specifically, CBP assessed facility conditions at four of the 40 land border crossings it owns from 2016 through 2018. Further, CBP has not developed a plan to ensure it conducts such assessments, consistent with DHS policy which calls for them every three years. Developing and implementing a plan to ensure CBP executes its facility condition assessment program would enable CBP to collect more complete and current infrastructure information. In addition, while CBP and the General Services Administration (GSA) both assess facility conditions at 101 GSA-owned land border crossings, they do not consistently share or use each other's information. Doing so could enable CBP and GSA to improve the accuracy and completeness of their respective assessments.

Convent Street Land Border Crossing in Laredo, Texas

HL_5 - 102665

CBP prioritizes land border crossing capital projects in a five-year plan, which by statute is to be submitted with DHS's annual budget request to Congress. In fiscal years 2014 through 2018, CBP submitted two plans on time, submitted two plans more than 100 days after submission of the budget request, and did not submit a plan in one year due to delays in the plan's review and approval process. By establishing timeframes for the review process, CBP would be better positioned to identify and address sources of delay in the review process, and improve its ability to meet statutory reporting requirements by including its five-year plan with its annual budget submission to Congress.

The 10 completed or ongoing GSA land border crossing capital projects in fiscal years 2014 through 2018 generally experienced schedule growth ranging from 0 to 59 percent, but stayed within a 10 percent cost contingency allowance. Circumstances contributing to increased project costs or schedule growth include funding lags between project design and construction, and CBP-requested changes during construction to meet evolving mission needs, according to GSA and CBP officials.

Why GAO Did This Study

CBP and GSA own, lease, or manage all of the nation's 167 land border crossings. CBP facilitates trade and travel at these crossings and has identified significant capital investment needs at these facilities.

GAO was asked to review land border crossing infrastructure. This report examines (1) infrastructure constraints CBP faces and the extent CBP and GSA have information on infrastructure condition, (2) the extent CBP prioritizes capital projects and (3) the extent recent GSA capital projects met cost, schedule, and scope goals and challenges CBP and GSA reported.

GAO analyzed land border crossing data and documentation, including CBP and GSA facility assessments, CBP capital investment plans for fiscal years 2014 through 2018, and data for GSA capital infrastructure projects active during those years. GAO also interviewed officials from CBP field offices that oversee all crossings about infrastructure constraints and visited 16 crossings selected based on high traffic volume and border crossings CBP has prioritized for infrastructure improvement.

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Recommendations

GAO is making seven recommendations, including that CBP develop a plan to ensure it conducts facility condition assessments consistent with DHS policy; that CBP and GSA share and use each other's information on facility conditions at land border crossings; and that CBP establish review timeframes for its capital investment plan.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Customs and Border Protection The CBP Commissioner, in conjunction with the DHS Office of the Chief Readiness Support Officer, should develop and implement a plan to ensure that CBP executes its Facility Condition Assessments (FCA) program by conducting FCAs at each CBP-owned land border crossing consistent with DHS Directive 119-02-004. (Recommendation 1)
Closed – Implemented
In July 2019, we reported on U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) infrastructure at land border crossings (GAO-19-534). During the course of our review, we found that CBP had not developed or implemented a plan to conduct facility condition assessments (FCA) at all 40 CBP-owned land border crossings, consistent with DHS Directive 119-02-004. The Directive requires CBP to assess facility condition at CBP-owned facilities every three years. Consequently, we recommended that CBP develop and implement a plan to conduct FCAs at CBP-owned land border crossings consistent with the DHS Directive. In January 2021, CBP provided a written plan to conduct FCAs at all 40 CBP-owned land border crossings over the next three years. CBP also demonstrated that is implementing the plan by completing FCAs at 25 CBP-owned land border crossings in fiscal year 2020 and with plans to assess the remaining 15 CBP-owned land border crossings over the next two years. These actions should enable CBP to collect complete and current information on infrastructure conditions at CBP-owned land border crossings and inform resources decisions. As a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.
United States Customs and Border Protection The CBP Commissioner should share FCA reports with GSA and use facility condition information in GSA's Building Assessment Tool to inform FCAs. (Recommendation 2)
Closed – Implemented
In July 2019, we reported on U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) infrastructure at land border crossings (GAO-19-534). During the course of our review, we found that (1) CBP did not share the results of its facility condition assessments with the General Services Administration (GSA) at GSA-owned land border crossings, and that (2) CBP did not leverage facility condition information from GSA's Building Assessment Tool (BAT) to inform its facility condition assessments at GSA-owned land border crossings. CBP and GSA's facility condition assessment are distinct and serve different purposes, however, both provide detailed information on facility conditions observed at the time of each assessment. Consequently, we recommended that CBP share FCA reports with GSA and use facility condition information in GSA's Building Assessment Tool to inform FCAs. In September 2020, CBP provided (1) a white paper recommending the use of GSA BAT reports to inform its FCAs, (2) updated FCA standard operating procedures to include comparing draft FCAs with existing GSA BAT reports to identify discrepancies, if any, and include GSA BAT information in CBP FCAs, as appropriate, and (3) emails between CBP and GSA officials establishing that the BAT reports GSA shares with CBP provide the level of detail necessary to inform CBP FCAs. In December 2020, CBP provided an example of a recent GSA BAT report that CBP obtained and used to inform an FCA at a GSA-owned land border crossings. Lastly, in February 2021, CBP provided a plan for using GSA BAT reports to inform its FCAs going forward. These actions should improve information sharing on facility condition and could help ensure that CBP's facility condition assessments are as accurate and complete as possible. As a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.
General Services Administration The GSA Administrator should share Building Assessment Tool reports with CBP and use facility condition information in CBP's FCAs to inform its assessments through the Building Assessment Tool. (Recommendation 3)
Closed – Implemented
In July 2019, we reported on infrastructure at land border crossings. During our review, we found that (1) GSA did not share facility condition information on GSA-owned land border crossings with CBP, and that (2) GSA did not leverage facility condition information from CBP's facility condition assessments at these land border crossings. GSA and CBP's facility condition assessments are distinct and serve different purposes. However, both provide detailed information on facility conditions. Consequently, we recommended that GSA share its Building Assessment Tool reports with CBP and use information from CBP's facility condition assessments to inform its Building Assessment Tool reports. In December 2020, GSA responded to our recommendation by providing documentation that it is sharing Building Assessment Tool reports with CBP. In May 2022, GSA provided updated standard operating procedures that include steps for GSA surveyors to incorporate CBP facility condition assessments information in Building Assessment Tool reports. These actions should improve information sharing on facility condition and should help ensure that GSA's Building Assessment Tool reports are as accurate and complete as possible. As a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.
General Services Administration The GSA Administrator, in conjunction with CBP, should share with CBP information on GSA maintenance and repair work at GSA-owned land border crossings at the level of detail necessary to inform CBP's data in TRIRIGA. (Recommendation 4)
Closed – Implemented
In July 2019, we reported on infrastructure at land border crossings (GAO-19-534). During the course of our review, we found that the General Services Administration (GSA) did not routinely share detailed information on maintenance and repair work performed at GSA-owned land border crossings with Customs and Border Protection (CBP). CBP leases and operates these GSA-owned land border crossings and uses a software system called TRIRIGA to, among other things, track and prioritize infrastructure needs at the land border crossings it operates. However, TRIRIGA data on infrastructure needs at GSA-owned land border crossings was often incomplete since GSA did not routinely share information on maintenance and repair work performed at these crossings, according to CBP officials. Consequently, we recommended that GSA share information on maintenance and repair work conducted at GSA-owned land border crossings at the level of detail necessary to inform CBP's data in TRIRIGA. In April 2020, GSA began providing CBP with data on maintenance and repair information at GSA-owned land border crossings. CBP also confirmed that it has regular access to data on maintenance and repair work performed at GSA-owned land border crossings. These actions should enable CBP to improve the completeness of TRIRIGA data on GSA-owned land border crossings. As a result, CBP should have access to more complete data to plan and prioritize infrastructure needs activities at GSA-owned land border crossings. Consequently, this recommendation is closed as implemented.
United States Customs and Border Protection The CBP Commissioner should use information on maintenance and repair work conducted by GSA at GSA-owned land border crossings to update facility condition information in TRIRIGA on an ongoing basis. (Recommendation 5)
Closed – Implemented
In July 2019, we reported on infrastructure at land border crossings (GAO-19-534). During the course of our review, we found that CBP did not update facility information with maintenance and repair work completed at GSA-owned land border crossings. CBP leases and operates these GSA-owned land border crossings and uses a software system called TRIRIGA to, among other things, track and prioritize infrastructure needs at the land border crossings it operates. However, CBP did not regularly include information on maintenance and repair work conducted at GSA-owned land border crossings in TRIRIGA. Consequently, we recommended that CBP use information on maintenance and repair work conducted by GSA at GSA-owned land border crossings to update facility condition information in TRIRIGA on an ongoing basis. In April 2020, GSA began providing CBP with information on maintenance and repair work conducted at GSA-owned land border crossings. In April 2021, CBP provided a written plan for including information on maintenance and repair work at GSA-owned land border crossings in TRIRIGA and provided examples demonstrating that it is using this information to update data in the system. These actions should improve the completeness and accuracy of CBP information on GSA-owned land border crossing facilities in TRIRIGA. Consequently, this recommendation is closed as implemented.
United States Customs and Border Protection The CBP Commissioner should establish review time frames for stakeholders involved in its Five-year Capital Investment Plan review and approval process. (Recommendation 6)
Closed – Implemented
In July 2019, we reported on infrastructure at land border crossings. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) operates the nation's 167 land border crossings and prioritizes prospective capital projects at these facilities within its annual Five-Year Land Port of Entry Capital Investment Plan (five-year plan). CBP is statutorily required to include its five-year plan with its annual budget submission to Congress. However, we found that CBP did not regularly meet this requirement in fiscal years 2014 through 2018 due to delays within the stakeholder review and approval process. Consequently, we recommended that CBP establish time frames for stakeholders involved in its five-year plan review and approval process. In June 2022, CBP provided review and approval time frames for stakeholders involved in the process within its Land Port of Entry Capital Project Prioritization Process document. This should enable CBP to communicate timeliness expectations to stakeholders, and identify and address sources of delay. As a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.
United States Customs and Border Protection The CBP Commissioner should establish and document a methodology for its annual land border crossing capital prioritization process that includes procedures and time frames for each step. (Recommendation 7)
Closed – Implemented
In July 2019, we reported on infrastructure at land border crossings. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) operates the nation's 167 land border crossings and prioritizes prospective capital projects at these facilities within its annual Five-Year Land Port of Entry Capital Investment Plan (five-year plan). However, we found that CBP did not prioritize these prospective projects using a consistent methodology across the years or projects. Consequently, we recommended that CBP establish and document a methodology for its annual prioritization process that includes procedures and time frames for each step. In June 2022, CBP provided a documented methodology for its annual land border crossing capital prioritization process that includes procedures and time frames for each step. This should help ensure that CBP personnel follow a consistent methodology across projects and years and that it consistently provides Congress with more up-to-date and complete information in its five-year plans. As a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

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