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GAO: CBP Innovations Team Could Improve Processes and Guidance

In 2018, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) created a team to test and deliver innovative technologies, such as surveillance drones. These technologies have the potential to significantly alter how Border Patrol agents and other operators conduct their work and have included advanced communications systems and opioid detection capabilities. As of July 2022, the Innovation Team had initiated 73 pilot projects to demonstrate new technologies.

A new review from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says this team could improve its processes. For example, the team collaborates with agents around the country to pilot and get feedback on new technologies. But many agents are uncertain about their roles due to a lack of guidance.

The Innovation Team proactively collaborates with front-line operators—such as Border Patrol agents—but has opportunities to strengthen these collaborations. From 2019 to 2022, the team collaborated with seven groups of operators to get their feedback on the technologies it was piloting. However, the team’s principal guidance document does not address how the team should coordinate with these operators because, according to officials, the guidance was in place before the collaboration began. Operator groups GAO interviewed raised questions about roles, responsibilities, and processes. For example, multiple operators asked whether they should play a larger role in identifying evolving technology needs.

The Innovation Team’s guidance states that, prior to investing in a pilot project, the team is to identify a transition partner who will fully deploy the technology if a demonstration proves it to be a useful capability. Of the 39 completed pilot projects, 19 did not transition. GAO found that the most common reason that pilot projects did not transition—about a third of the time—was the inability to identify a transition partner willing to invest further in the technology. Innovation Team leadership told GAO that this happened because the transition agreements were informal. When the individuals involved left their organizations, the officials that remained were not willing to deploy the technologies. By consistently documenting formal agreements with transition partners, team leadership can help mitigate the risk of piloting a technology that lacks a transition path or interested owner.

Additionally, GAO found that the Innovation Team has not measured progress against all of its established performance goals. As a result, the team cannot demonstrate the extent to which it has made progress toward its strategic goals, or identify performance shortfalls warranting corrective action, if any.

GAO is making three recommendations to CBP, including that it strengthen the Innovation Team’s performance assessments, update its guidance for collaborating with key operator groups, and document formal transition agreements. DHS concurred with these recommendations.

Read the full report at GAO

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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