The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Fiscal Year 2019-2020 Border Security Improvement Plan was late and did not include all required elements, says a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
DHS’s 2018 appropriations act set forth 11 required elements for the Border Security Improvement Plan, including a statement of goals and objectives related to DHS’s border security investments and efforts, a detailed implementation schedule, analyses of alternatives, and an identification of staffing requirements, among other things.
A GAO review found the information in the 2019-2020 plan to be incomplete when compared to the elements required by the DHS Appropriations Act, 2018, as referenced by the 2019 and 2020 appropriations acts. In particular, GAO identified 10 of the 11 elements for which the 2019-2020 plan provided incomplete information.
DHS’s 2019-2020 plan includes a goal, objectives, and activities; identifies capabilities across four strategic initiatives; and describes mission benefits and outcomes for each initiative; among other things. However, GAO found that the plan does not include many of the other required elements, such as a detailed implementation schedule linked to services, program management capabilities, or life cycle cost estimates; and an estimate of planned obligation of funds for fiscal years 2019-2027. The watchdog notes in its April 12 report that the plan also does not identify staffing requirements for any of the initiatives identified in the plan. The plan noted only that “CBP is developing a staffing summary”.
While the plan did identify 34 programs across four strategic initiatives that DHS considers the primary efforts to address key mission vulnerabilities, it did not identify which of these were considered the most important or addressed the highest priority border security needs.
Some of the other information that GAO identified as missing relates to the border barrier. With Biden halting work on construction, these information gaps are less crucial from an operational perspective, but do spotlight potential procedural shortcomings.
DHS officials provided various reasons for the incomplete and late submission of information in the 2019-2020 plan. Officials told GAO that generating the information would be time consuming and that the information resided in other agency documents provided to Congress. For example, they said that costs presented or included in CBP’s annual budget justification are usually informed by life cycle cost estimates.
DHS’s 2018-2020 appropriations acts required the department to submit the Border Security Improvement Plan 180 days after enactment of each act. GAO said DHS has submitted three plans since 2018, but has not provided these plans within the required time frames. Officials cited the COVID-19 pandemic as one reason for the delay in providing the most recent plan to Congress.
While the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, does not include a requirement for DHS to submit another Border Security Improvement Plan for fiscal year 2021, Congress has noted the importance of having timely and comprehensive information such as that required in the plan to assist in its oversight and decision-making. For example, the House Report accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, noted concern about the absence of timely analysis on all of the required elements of the Border Security Improvement Plan to help make funding decisions and conduct oversight.
Having the right information to hand, and in a timely manner, is likely to improve Congress’s oversight of DHS’s border security plans, efforts, and use of funds. To this end, GAO has recommended that DHS should expeditiously provide Congress with the required information that was missing from the Fiscal Year 2019-2020 Border Security Improvement Plan. DHS concurred and said the missing information will be provided to Congress by September 30, 2021. This is expected to include a detailed implementation schedule linked to services, program management capabilities, and life cycle cost estimates; as well as an estimate of planned obligation of funds for fiscal years 2019-2027.