The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued an update to its second annual report from March 2019 on Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) public-private partnerships.
On a typical day in fiscal year 2019, CBP officers inspected over 1.1 million passengers and pedestrians and over 78,000 truck, rail, and sea containers carrying goods worth approximately $7.3 billion at 328 U.S. land, sea, and air ports of entry, according to CBP.
To help meet demand for CBP inspection services, since 2013, CBP has entered into public-private partnerships under the Reimbursable Services Program (RSP) and the Donations Acceptance Program (DAP).
The RSP allows partners to reimburse CBP for providing services that exceed CBP’s normal operations, such as paying overtime for CBP personnel that provide services at ports of entry outside regular business hours. The DAP enables partners to donate property or provide funding for port of entry infrastructure improvements.
GAO’s January 30 update reports that CBP has continued to expand these programs since the March 2019 annual report.
CBP selected 39 applications for RSP partnerships in 2019 bringing the total of RSP selections to 211 since 2013. In addition, CBP and its RSP partners have executed 157 Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) that outline how these RSP agreements are implemented at specific Ports of Entry (POE). The majority of MOUs executed since 2013 were at air POEs and focused on freight, cargo, and traveler processing.
Although the number of RSP partners increased since GAO’s March 2018 report, the growth in the total number of RSP-related CBP officer assignments, officer overtime hours, and reimbursed funds slowed during 2018 and 2019 (through early-November), following a period of growth from 2014 through 2017.
One senior CBP official told GAO that CBP is better at addressing its CBP-wide officer staffing challenges than in prior years, and that it hired additional officers in 2018 and 2019, which may impact the number of requests for RSP services. In addition, fluctuations in travel and trade impact the overall annual number of CBP inspections, and these fluctuations may also impact the number of requests for RSP services.
Regarding DAP, in fiscal year 2019, CBP entered into seven new DAP partnerships bringing the total number of agreements to 39 since fiscal year 2015. Partners span a variety of sectors such as state and local governments, private companies, and airline companies. Donations served a variety of purposes, such as expanding inspection facility infrastructure, providing biometric detection services, and providing luggage for canine training. CBP officials estimated that the total value of all DAP donations CBP has received was $219.7 million.
CBP developed the Alternative Funding Programs: Program Performance Management Plan in April 2018 to help evaluate RSP and DAP. GAO reviewed this plan and found that CBP implemented this previous GAO recommendation, as the plan contains program goals and metrics, along with methodologies to collect and analyze various qualitative and quantitative data. Moreover, in April 2019, CBP completed its first RSP and DAP evaluation reports for calendar year 2018 and found that the agency generally met the programs’ goals and objectives.
CBP’s initial evaluations of both programs using its evaluation plan also met the intent of GAO’s recommendation. According to the plan and CBP officials, the agency will evaluate both programs annually to improve and monitor the performance of the RSP and DAP.
With regard to the 2018 evaluation of RSP more specifically, CBP has made, or plans to make, changes to the program based on partner survey responses such as using RSP to help build the agency’s agricultural specialist capacity and allowing for credit card payments. CBP also made changes to how the agency will evaluate DAP by adding additional objectives to better evaluate the impact of DAP’s small-scale donations.