Border Patrol’s New National Strategy Faces Challenges, GAO Says
May 9th 2012 · 1 Comment
The performance goal and measures that will be used to provide oversight and accountability for US Border Patrol’s new 2012-2016 national strategy have not yet been established, Rebecca Gambler, acting director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security during its hearing Tuesday to examine Border Patrol’s first new strategic border security plan in eight years.
The new five-year plan officially was unveiled by Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher when he also testified before the subcommittee to discuss his agency’s new strategy.
In advance of yesterday’s hearing, Homeland Security Today published the first in-depth, inside account of the agency’s new border security strategy and the issues and controversy associated with its development and implementation. The plan was outlined last fall to Border Patrol’s workforce in the document, 2012-2016 Border Patrol National Strategy – The Mission: Protect America, first obtained by Homeland Security Today. The strategy also was covered to a lesser degree in the March Homeland Security Today report, A New Strategy on the Border.
Gambler began by explaining to the subcommittee that “GAO’s prior work has highlighted progress and challenges in various areas related to Border Patrol’s implementation of its 2004 national strategy, which could provide insights as Border Patrol transitions to its 2012 strategic plan.”
Gambler said, “Border Patrol officials stated that the 2012 strategic plan will rely on Border Patrol and federal, state, local, tribal and international partners working together to use a risk-based approach to secure the border, and include the key elements of ‘information, integration, and rapid response’ to achieve objectives.”
“These elements were similar to those in the 2004 strategy and GAO’s past work highlighted the progress and challenges the agency faced obtaining information necessary for border security; integrating security operations with partners; and mobilizing a rapid response to security threats,” Gambler said, adding, “Border Patrol successfully used interagency forums and joint operations to counter threats, but challenges included assessing the benefits of border technology and infrastructure to, among other things, provide information on situational awareness.”
“For example,” Gambler told the panel, “in May 2010 GAO reported that … Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had not accounted for the effect of its investment in border fencing and infrastructure on security.” Consequently, GAO recommended CBP conduct an analysis of the effect of tactical infrastructure on border security. CBP concurred.
Further, Gambler said GAO identified challenges in DHS efforts to coordinate with partners that help to secure the border. For example, in December 2010 GAO reported various northern border security partners cited ongoing challenges in sharing information and resources for border security operations and investigations, and that DHS did not have mechanisms for providing oversight.
So, Gambler said, “GAO recommended that DHS provide oversight, to which DHS concurred and stated that in January 2012 the department established an intercomponent advisory council to provide oversight of compliance with interagency agreements.”
Continuing, Gambler said, “GAO’s prior work showed that as of Sept. 30, 2010, Border Patrol reported achieving its 2004 goal of operational control — where Border Patrol has the ability to detect and interdict illegal activity — for 1,107 (13 percent) of 8,607 miles across US northern, southwest and coastal borders. DHS transitioned at the end of fiscal year 2010 from using operational control as its goal and outcome measure for border security to using an interim measure of apprehensions on the southwest border. DHS reported that this interim measure would be used until such time as DHS developed a new goal and measure for border security that will reflect a more quantitative methodology across border locations and the agency’s evolving view of border security.”
But as GAO previously testified, Gambler emphasized to the subcommittee, “This interim measure, while providing useful information on activity levels, is an output measure that does not inform on program results. Therefore, it limits oversight and accountability and has reduced information provided to Congress and the public on program results. DHS stated that it had several efforts underway to establish a new measure used to assess efforts to secure the border but as this measure is under development, it is too early to assess it.”
While GAO’s critique of Border Patrol’s new national strategy tended to focus on whether the effectiveness of the agency’s 2012-2016 objectives will be able to be measured by the number of apprehensions, the Border Patrol’s primary goals, as outlined in its strategy document, aren’t predicated on the admittedly outdated methodology of whether a decrease in apprehensions of illegal aliens means a more locked down border, but on what the agency needs to do – and be doing better – to confront the borders’ new security environment.
“And these big changes – and there’s definitely a lot changes with this new strategy – in and of themselves will result in apprehensions,” Homeland Security Today was told by Jay Kalath, vice president and general manager of ARRAY Information Technology’s national security operations. He was the architect of a recent groundbreaking program with CBP to put in place a joint operations approach using advanced collaboration technologies designed to keep the northern border safe and secure without hindering trade or travel processing.
Before the subcommittee, Fisher emphasized that Border Patrol’s primary concerns – outlined in the new strategy document – are:
- Preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States between the ports of entry (POEs) with improved and focused intelligence-driven operations, as well as operational integration, planning and execution with law enforcement partners;
- Effectively managing risk through the introduction and expansion of sophisticated tactics, techniques and procedures that include methods of detecting illegal entries such as using “change detection” techniques, increased mobile response capabilities and expanded use of specially trained personnel with “force multiplying” skills and abilities;
- Disrupting and dismantling transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) by targeting enforcement efforts against the highest priority threats and expanding programs that reduce smuggling and crimes associated with smuggling; and
- Increasing and sustaining the certainty of apprehension for illegal crossings between the POEs by expanding Border Patrol’s situational awareness and employing a comprehensive and integrated “whole-of-government” approach.
As the document Border Patrol prepared last fall outlining its new five-year border security strategy pointed out, “Border Patrol’s fundamental mission is to secure our borders between ports of entry against all threats, including terrorists and terrorist weapons, transnational criminal organizations and illegal immigration,” and “this strategy calls for the Border Patrol to take a risk-based, outcome-focused approach to achieving this mission.”
“The principal theme of the 2012 strategic plan is to use information, integration and rapid response to meet all threats … these pillars are central as we continue to build upon an approach that puts the Border Patrol’s greatest capabilities in place to combat the greatest risks,” Fisher told the subcommittee Tuesday.
“Information gathered from reconnaissance, community engagement sign-cutting and technology together provide situational awareness and intelligence and helps us to best understand and assess the threats we face along our borders,” Fisher continued, noting that information and intelligence are key to “empower[ing] Border Patrol leadership and front-line agents to get ahead of the threat, be predictive and proactive.”
Fisher said, “The current [border] risk environment is characterized by constantly evolving threats that are both complex and varying, and the Border Patrol must strategically apply intelligence to ensure that operations are focused and targeted against the greatest threats. The Border Patrol’s ability to prevent and disrupt such threats is enhanced through increased information sharing and operational integration, planning and execution with our domestic and foreign law enforcement partners. Integration with our federal, state, local, tribal and international partners’ intelligence and enforcement capabilities into the planning and execution of CBP operations is critical to our ability to secure our nation’s borders.”
Homeland Security Today first reported that intelligence synthesis is integral to Border Patrol’s new “intelligence driven operations” that involve a strategic, future-oriented and targeted approach to risk management, the purpose of which is “identifying and developing a comprehensive understanding of terrorist and transnational criminal threats to our nation’s borders,” which “continue to be of paramount importance to the Border Patrol’s mission. It also incorporates strategic utilization of intelligence to ensure Border Patrol operations are focused and targeted, and integrating its intelligence and enforcement capabilities into the planning and execution.”
The agency indicated efforts to disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations will be done “by targeting enforcement efforts against the highest priority threats and expanding programs that reduce smuggling and crimes associated with smuggling.”
According to Border Patrol’s Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis Division (SPPA), “intelligence and operations feed each other. Effective intelligence drives effective operations. Effective operations produce information, which generates more intelligence. Similarly, ineffective or inaccurate intelligence produces ineffective operations, which produce the opposite results.”
“Intelligence driven operations is a comprehensive approach to executing border security to a higher degree than just throwing resources at a problem,” SPPA said.
“Intelligence-based methods and risk-based approaches are exactly the right answer,” said Jessica Zuckerman, a research assistant at the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
ARRAY Information Technology’s Kalath agreed. A consultant to DHS and the Department of Defense on national security issues, he said Border Patrol has “made operational [and other] improvements to their capabilities to gain better situational awareness.”
Kalath said Border Patrol and CBP are more closely integrating information sharing and coordination among their own intelligence and analytical assets, as well as among fusion centers and state and local law enforcement.
“Some [entities] still do not communicate with each other, but that will happen later – there will be more integrated data analysis related to border situational awareness” for Border Patrol’s new strategy to use intelligence and trend analysis to drive targeted operations and resources, he said.
Kalath said fusion centers and Border Patrol “field agents … need to be kept aware of what is happening in real time” for operations purposes, as well as “real time changes in patterns.”
Intelligence fusion can also provide pattern recognition of not only events on the ground, but also of the other border enforcement activities performed by Border Patrol, Kalath noted.
Fisher pointed out to lawmakers Tuesday that the “integration” component of Border Patrol’s new strategy “denotes CBP corporate planning and execution of border security operations, while leveraging partnerships with other federal, state, local, tribal and international organizations. Integration of effort with these organizations will ensure we bring all available capabilities and tools to bear in addressing threats.”
“Lastly, through rapid response, we will deploy capabilities efficiently and effectively to meet and mitigate the risks we confront,” Fisher added. “Put simply, rapid response means the Border Patrol and its partners can quickly and appropriately respond to changing threats.”
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