Fast Facts

The Department of Defense has provided U.S. Customs and Border Protection with personnel and other support for at least 2 decades. DOD evaluates requests for assistance against 6 criteria, including cost and how providing support would affect military readiness.

We looked at 4 such requests for assistance that DOD approved. We found that DOD used unreliable cost estimates and didn't fully evaluate the effects of the requests on military readiness. Also, DOD didn't track all costs or give Congress timely information on the full costs it incurred for homeland security support, as it was mandated to do. Our 7 recommendations address these issues.

DOD Detection and Monitoring Support in San Diego, California

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Highlights

What GAO Found

Since April 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has submitted 33 requests for assistance (RFA) to the Department of Defense (DOD) for support to U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) mission at the southwest border. DOD established six criteria for evaluating RFAs, which it documents in decision packages. When reviewing four selected decision packages, GAO found that DOD fully evaluated four of these six criteria. GAO found that DOD developed rough cost estimates that were not reliable. In addition, DOD did not fully evaluate the effect on military readiness of providing support at the time the Secretary of Defense considered DHS's requests. Without reliable cost estimates and a timely readiness analysis, DOD is limited in its ability to evaluate the effect of supporting DHS on its budget and readiness rebuilding efforts.

DOD's Detection and Monitoring Support Mission

DOD's Detection and Monitoring Support Mission

DOD has not provided Congress with timely information on the full costs it has incurred since 2018 in supporting DHS. Specifically, during this review, DOD did not submit its statutory report to Congress for fiscal year 2019, which was due March 31, 2020. Additionally, GAO found that DOD's internal tracking of obligations excludes potentially significant costs of border support activities, such as installation support costs and the cost of benefits retroactively provided to members of the National Guard. By providing more timely and complete information to Congress, DOD would enhance Congress's ability to conduct oversight and make funding decisions for DOD and DHS.

DOD and DHS employed several key interagency collaboration practices for DOD's support on the southwest border, but they have not agreed on a common outcome for DOD's support in fiscal year 2021 and beyond. DHS anticipates needing at least the current amount of DOD support for the next 3 to 5 years, possibly more, and officials stated that the desired outcome is for DOD to provide the capabilities requested in the RFAs. This differs from DOD's desired outcome, which is to provide temporary assistance until DHS can independently execute its border security mission. Defining and articulating a common outcome for DOD's support could enable DOD to more effectively plan for the resources it will need to support DHS and enable DHS to plan to manage its border security mission more effectively with its own assets.

This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in February 2021. Information on force protection that DOD deemed sensitive has been omitted.

Why GAO Did This Study

For decades, the U.S. southwest border has been vulnerable to cross-border illegal activity such as illegal entries, smuggling of drugs and contraband, and terrorist activities. Since 2002, DOD has supported DHS's mission to secure the nation's borders and episodically supported its efforts to manage surges in foreign nationals without valid travel documents who are seeking entry—most recently since April 2018, when the President directed the Secretary of Defense to support DHS in securing the southwest border.

GAO was asked to examine this support. This report assesses the extent to which (1) DOD has evaluated DHS's RFAs, (2) DOD has reported to Congress the full costs of its support, and (3) DOD and DHS have collaborated on border security operations. GAO reviewed RFAs that DHS submitted to DOD between April 2018 and March 2020 and a non-generalizable sample of decision packages that DOD prepared in response, and conducted four site visits to border locations where military personnel were stationed.

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Recommendations

GAO makes seven recommendations, five to DOD to improve its analysis and reporting of cost and unit-level readiness impacts of supporting southwest border operations and one each to DOD and DHS to define a common outcome for DOD's future support. DOD agreed with one recommendation and disagreed with five. GAO continues to believe the recommendations are warranted as discussed in the report. DHS agreed with the recommendation to it.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) follows GAO best practices for completing well-documented cost estimates when assessing DHS's RFAs related to the southwest border by documenting its estimating methods for future RFAs. (Recommendation 1)
Open
DOD stated that its estimates were intended to provide senior leadership and external stakeholders with a rough order of magnitude cost estimate of the potential cost of supporting each of DHS's operations. DOD further stated that GAO's guide for reliable cost estimates is not necessarily applicable to contingency operations. However, this position is not consistent with DOD's Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) and financial management guidance or with cost estimating best practices. We will continue to monitor whether DOD takes action on this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) follows GAO best practices for credible estimates when assessing DHS's RFAs related to the southwest border by completing a robust sensitivity analysis of key cost drivers, a risk and uncertainty analysis, and cross checks for future RFAs. (Recommendation 2)
Open
DOD stated that it used the Contingency Operations Support Tool model to develop its cost estimates, and that among other things, the estimates were informed by execution data reported by the DOD components. However, we found that DOD's cost model does not include an assessment of risk, sensitivity, and cross checks, all of which are needed to create high-quality and reliable estimates. We will continue to monitor whether DOD takes action to implement this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in collaboration with the Secretaries of the Military Departments, identifies units likely to be sourced to support CBP on the southwest border and the potential unit-level readiness impacts of assigning those units prior to the Secretary responding to DHS's RFAs, when conditions permit. (Recommendation 3)
Open
DOD stated that the Joint Staff's existing evaluation processes enable the Secretary to make an informed decision as to whether DOD should support DHS's request. As we note in our report, officials told us this information about unit readiness was not provided to the Secretary at the time of the decision to provide support, which may have led DOD to agree to provide capabilities that were later not provided due to readiness concerns or resulted in the department incurring unforeseen readiness costs. We will continue to monitor whether DOD takes action in response to this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, in coordination with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), provides the Section 1014 Reports to the cognizant congressional committees on time. (Recommendation 4)
Open
DOD agreed with the recommendation and stated that it did not provide the fiscal year 2019 Section 1014 report to cognizant congressional committees on time 1) because Congress extended the requirement for the report in December 2019 and 2) due to changes in personnel related to the unprecedented response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We will monitor whether DOD submits the fiscal year 2019 Section 1014 report to cognizant congressional committees takes and submits future Section 1014 reports on time.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) clarifies guidance to ensure that the military services and the National Guard Bureau track all costs associated with DOD support to CBP's border security mission, including costs associated with installation support, oversight of border bar construction projects, and National Guard personnel benefits and include those costs in any future Section 1014 Reports. (Recommendation 5)
Open
In its response, DOD stated that the Financial Management Regulation provides guidance on reporting the cost of contingency operations. Although the Financial Management Regulation does provide instructions, the department previously determined additional guidance on cost reporting was necessary, as demonstrated by its issuing reporting requirements for DOD's assistance to CBP in an October 2018 memorandum. We will continue to monitor whether DOD takes action in response to this recommendation.
Department of Homeland Security The Secretary of Homeland Security, together with the Secretary of Defense, should define a common outcome for DOD's support to DHS, consistent with best practices for interagency collaboration, and articulate how that support will enable DHS to achieve its southwest border security mission in fiscal year 2021 and beyond. (Recommendation 6)
Open
DHS agreed with the recommendation and stated in its response that it will continue to use the RFA process to define and articulate a common outcome. However, as we stated in our report, the RFA process has not enabled DOD and DHS to agree to a common outcome for DOD's support, because it focuses on meeting DHS's operational requirements over a short period of time. We will continue to monitor whether DHS takes action in response to this recommendation.
Department of Defense
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Secretary of Defense, together with the Secretary of Homeland Security, should define a common outcome for DOD's support to DHS, consistent with best practices for interagency collaboration, and articulate how that support will enable DHS to achieve its southwest border security mission in fiscal year 2021 and beyond. (Recommendation 7)
Open
DOD did not concur with this recommendation. DOD disagreed that it would be appropriate to develop a common outcome with DHS for DOD support beyond fiscal year 2021 and stated that agreeing to this recommendation would represent a more permanent and enduring commitment of its resources and may create an impression that DOD has a border security mission. We agree that DOD is not responsible for the border security mission and stated this point throughout our report. However, DOD and DHS's disagreement on the outcome for support in fiscal year 2021 and beyond is not consistent with the operational reality that DOD has actively supported DHS at the southern border in varying capacities since DHS's inception nearly two decades ago.

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