Tuesday, April 5, 2011

GAO Testimony on Border Security, GAO-11-58T

On March 30, the Government Accountability Office released GAO-11-508T, Testimony by Richard M. Stana, GAO Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues Before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate. This testimony is based on GAO’s body of work from 2007 to the present that examined DHS efforts to secure the U.S. border.

Some troubling items from “What GAO Found,” that may be of interest to high-risk maritime facilities and vessels pondering threats that might come at them over our borders:

“At the end of fiscal year 2010, DHS investments in border security had grown to $11.9 billion and included more than 40,000 personnel….However, as GAO reported from 2007 through 2011, weaknesses in POE (Point of Entry) traveler inspection procedures and infrastructure increased the potential that dangerous people and illegal goods could enter the country; and that currency and firearms could leave the country and finance drug trafficking organizations and sponsors of terrorism….CBP’s Border Patrol component is moving ahead with a new technology deployment plan to secure the border, but cost and operational effectiveness and suitability are not yet clear. …

“CBP’s Border Patrol component is moving ahead with a new technology deployment plan to secure the border, but cost and operational effectiveness and suitability are not yet clear. In January 2011, the Secretary of Homeland Security announced a new direction to deploying technology to assist in securing the border. The decision ended the Secure Border Initiative Network technology program—one part of a multiyear, multibillion dollar effort aimed at securing the border through technology such as radar, sensors, and cameras and infrastructure such as fencing. Under a new plan, called Alternative (Southwest) Border Technology, Border Patrol is to develop terrain- and population-based solutions using existing proven technology, such as camera-based surveillance systems. However, the analysis DHS performed to arrive at an appropriate mix of technology in its new plan raises questions. For example, the analysis cited a range of uncertainties in costs and effectiveness, with no clear-cut cost effective technology alternative among those considered, as GAO reported in preliminary observations in March 2011. “

“Overall, DHS reported achieving an acceptable level of border control across less than half of the southwest border and less than 2 percent of the northern border during fiscal year 2010.”

Addressing CBP technology challenges, “For example, as of March 2011, license plate readers were available at 48 of 118 outbound lanes on the southwest border but none of the 179 outbound lanes on the northern border. “

“Traffic checkpoints contributed to furthering the Border Patrol mission to protect the border. In 2008, they accounted for about 35 percent of Border Patrol drug seizures along the southwest border and 17,000 apprehensions of illegal aliens, including 3 individuals identified as persons linked to terrorism. However, we reported in August 2009 that Border Patrol did not have measures to determine if these checkpoints were operating effectively and efficiently, and weaknesses in checkpoint design and operation increased the risk that illegal activity may travel to the U.S. interior undetected. “

Concerning persons passing through both the northern and southern ports of entry, CBP determined that 99% were compliant with U. S. laws and regulations. Of the remainder, the agency “reported a goal to apprehend at least 28 percent of serious criminal activities—such as transporting illegal drugs, guns, or other banned substances.” At the end of fiscal year 2009, the land border Points of Entry had achieved that goal. (It’s impossible to resist pointing out that even in a bad year for flow through the POE’s, even a percentage of 1% is a sizeable universe of persons.)

“As we previously observed in December 2010 and February 2011, and through selected updates, Border Patrol determined in fiscal year 2010 that border security was not at an acceptable level of control for 1,120 southwest border miles and 3,918 northern border miles, and that on the northern border there was a significant or high degree of reliance on enforcement support from outside the border zones for detection and apprehension of cross-border illegal activity.”

I have selected the negative comments from this report because they represent the areas of concern and vulnerability. There were many positive comments, but the negative statements were frequent and alarming.