Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) use of Predator B unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for a variety of border security activities could benefit from documented coordination procedures in all operating locations, according to a lengthy new Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit report.
CBP uses its Predator B UAS to support a variety of mission, including supporting investigations in collaboration with other government agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement and to locate individuals illegally crossing the border.
GAO said it “found that CBP established various mechanisms to coordinate with other agencies for Predator B missions, but did not develop and document coordination procedures in two of its three operational centers. Without documented coordination procedures in all operating locations consistent with internal control standards, CBP does not have reasonable assurance that practices in all operating locations align with existing policies and procedures for joint operations with other federal and non-federal government agencies.”
CBP has taken actionsto assess the effectiveness of its UAS and aerostats for border security, but could improve its data collection. CBP collects a variety of data on its use of Predator B UAS, tactical aerostats (unmanned buoyant craft tethered to the ground and equipped with video surveillance cameras and radar technology) and its Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) which supports efforts to detect occurrences of illegal aircraft and maritime vessel border incursions.
Regarding CBP’s use of Predator B UAS, GAO said it “found mission data—such as the names of supported agencies and asset assists for seizures of narcotics—was not recorded consistently across all operational centers, limiting CBP’s ability to assess the effectiveness of the program.”
CBP also hasn’t “updated its guidance for collecting and recording mission information in its data collection system to include new data elements added since 2014, and it does not have instructions for recording mission information such as asset assists,” GAO said. “In addition, not all users of CBP’s system have received training for recording mission information. Updating guidance and fully training users, consistent with internal control standards, would help CBP better ensure the quality of data it uses to assess effectiveness.”
With regard to CBP’s use of tactical aerostats, GAO “found Border Patrol collection of asset assist information for seizures and apprehensions does not distinguish between its tactical aerostats and TARS. Consistent with internal control standards, data that distinguishes between support provided by tactical aerostats and support provided by TARS would help CBP collect better and more complete information and guide resource allocation decisions, such as the re-deployment of tactical aerostat sites based on changes in cross-border illegal activity.”
GAO recommended CBP documentcoordination procedures for Predator B operations in all operating locations, update guidance and implement training for collection of Predator B mission data and update Border Patrol’s data collection practices for aerostat asset assists.
CBP concurred and identified planned actions to address GAO’s recommendations.