As Hurricane Sally approaches the U.S. Gulf Coast, Laredo Border Patrol Sector mobilizes assets Sept. 14, 2020, to deploy to the impacted area. (CBP photo) Photo Credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

CBP 2021-2026 Strategy Emphasizes Investments in Tech, Intel, Workforce

U.S. Customs and Border Protection added new mission and values statements and “a set of Enduring Mission Priorities that describe our core missions in a succinct and meaningful way” to its 12 strategic objectives to shape the agency’s 2021-2026 strategic plan, which is focused on investments the agency needs to confront future challenges and threats.

Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan said in the agency’s new strategy that “the past 18 months have challenged us in unexpected and unprecedented ways,” and whereas “a migration and humanitarian crisis unfolding on our Southwest Border” shaped last year’s 2020-2025 strategy this year’s plan was influenced by “an invisible enemy in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

CBP’s five Enduring Mission Priorities laid out in the strategy are countering terrorism, combating transnational crime, securing the border, facilitating lawful trade and protecting revenue, and facilitating lawful travel.

The agency’s “success as a threat-based, intelligence and data-driven, operationally focused enterprise absolutely depends on how well we focus on our mission priorities to make CBP stronger, more efficient, and more effective,” Morgan said.

“Great organizations have strong identities. They have an unshakeable sense of purpose,” he said. “Our ability to deliver on our mission — to protect the American people, safeguard our borders, and enhance the nation’s economic prosperity — depends on our ability to navigate through change in the present, embracing it as we plan for the future while never losing sight of our purpose.”

CBP’s vision statement is “enhancing the nation’s security through innovation, intelligence, collaboration, and trust,” and its new mission statement is “protect the American people, safeguard our borders, and enhance the nation’s economic prosperity.”

The agency’s strategic objectives are divided into mission (counter network, targeting and vetting, awareness and enforcement, secure and compliant trade, biometric identification, stakeholder experience), team (talent acquisition and workforce development, wellness and resilience, partnerships), and future (intelligence, data and analytics, IT infrastructure).

Since the release of last year’s strategy, CBP reports hiring more than 2,000 officers and enough Air and Marine pilots to exceed the attrition rate for the first time in a decade. The Global Entry Trusted Traveler program also saw gains, with expansion of Enrollment on Arrival to 56 participating international airports since the program’s introduction in 2018. Biometric exit is now at 24 airports.

On the tech front, CBP reported achieving 100 percent power resiliency across all physical data center components and “dramatically improved network resiliency for agents and officers” with the implementation of direct connections to four cloud service providers, connecting 300 sites to two interconnection points, and providing 145 sites with 4G wireless backup.

The strategy states that investments will be needed to achieve strategic objectives in areas such as awareness and enforcement, where officers will need “capabilities and policy revisions to increase tactical and operational mobility, such as increased deployment of mobile technology like smartphones” and investments should “utilize emerging technology such as cutting-edge sensors and support border security through a layered approach that reduces overreliance on any single point or program.”

Citing how CBP “is changing how we verify travelers and applying cutting edge technology in innovative ways,” the strategy stresses the need to “expand implementation of Biometric Entry/Exit in the air environment to increase accuracy of matching arrival and departure information to travelers” and to “develop and deploy biometric solutions in land and sea environments to increase accuracy of matching arrival and departure information to travelers.”

The National Vetting Center will “expand and enhance its vetting capabilities and services in scale, scope, and depth” over the next five years, the document states, with the introduction of “classified vetting support services to more adjudicating agencies and their applicant programs to help identify bad actors seeking to enter the country,” expansion “beyond counter-terrorism to include vetting for other national security threat actors,” and incorporation of “new vetting analytics to assist in the recognition of previously unknown threats.”

Investment in “innovative technology and processes, reliable Information Technology (IT) tools, and intelligence capabilities to anticipate and confront ever-changing dynamics” is the linchpin of the strategy’s objectives to build the agency of the future.

To enable personnel to make timely data-informed decisions, the strategy emphasizes the need to “use advanced analytics to identify trends, explore alternative courses of action, and present quality data-driven information for decision making for operational, resource, and policy decisions,” “collect and connect quality data, including intelligence and risk assessments, to provide predictive analytics in support of an actionable common operating picture that ensures agents, officers, and trade personnel have the relevant quality information to conduct border and trade enforcement activities,” and “begin to institute corporate sharing of data and data analytics techniques to create greater value and efficiencies for CBP, while simultaneously complying with all appropriate authorities and ensuring best privacy practices.”

In CBP’s quest to continue to modernize IT infrastructure, the strategy outlines how the agency must “increase resilience and performance end-to-end by accelerating technology refresh programs; maturing tools, tests, and exercises that validate existing resilience measures; and incorporating concepts to proactively address emerging threats,” “manage integrated cloud migration and infrastructure modernization for all mission-essential and mission-relevant systems delivering modernized capabilities and improved user interfaces with no interruption in service; put in place redundancies and backup capabilities for critical systems,” “enhance cybersecurity posture in support of cloud migration and increased edge-device use without negative impact on system effectiveness,” and “develop the necessary data warehousing and infrastructure, acquire analytic tools and platforms, and develop capabilities for advanced analytic modeling.”

On the objective of improving intelligence, CBP “will make critical investments to establish a state-of-the art, 24/7 national intelligence watch, extend intelligence capabilities to the field, and enhance CBP intelligence training and capacity through the construction of an intelligence academy.”

To ensure staffing levels meet mission requirements, CBP aims to “identify, attract, and engage qualified candidates for all CBP occupations by leveraging advanced technology and data analytics,” “improve the applicant experience and streamline the hiring and onboarding process with a modernized, cloud-based platform,” and “develop and implement training, programs, guidance, and tools to further enable employees to grow personally and professionally throughout their CBP careers.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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