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Friday, February 23, 2024

GAO: DHS Mechanisms to Help Prevent Discrimination and Address Complaints

A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation has unveiled the comprehensive policies, guidelines, and training initiatives adopted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to prevent and address potential discrimination in its traveler inspection processes. The report sheds light on the meticulous efforts undertaken by CBP to ensure fairness, transparency, and accountability in its crucial role of inspecting individuals entering the United States.

Preventing Discrimination

CBP has been proactive in aligning its practices with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) nondiscrimination policy. A noteworthy step in this direction was the issuance of a 2014 memorandum, prohibiting the consideration of race or ethnicity in most law enforcement, investigation, and screening activities. As of November 2023, DHS is contemplating updates to its policy, with CBP actively collaborating with DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) to ensure consistency across the department. CBP has also issued guidance documents, including directives on officers’ standards of conduct, and integrated training programs focusing on law enforcement professionalism and unconscious bias. The agency evaluates the efficacy of these training initiatives through comprehensive course evaluation surveys.

Reviewing and Monitoring Mechanisms

CBP employs rigorous mechanisms to oversee the implementation of inspection policies and prevent discrimination. This includes periodic reviews of pre-primary targeting rules designed to identify potentially high-risk travelers. The agency ensures these rules align with their intended purpose, are supported by current law enforcement or intelligence information, and do not unduly impact legitimate travelers. CBP officers and supervisors actively collect, review, and monitor data related to primary and secondary inspections at ports of entry. Supervisors play a crucial role in interacting with officers and travelers to ensure compliance with policies and guidance. In a recent observation at a port of entry, a GAO supervisor was witnessed actively monitoring the secondary baggage inspection area.

Addressing Traveler Concerns

CBP has established various methods to address concerns raised by travelers, demonstrating a commitment to transparency. On-site supervisors are empowered to address concerns immediately, engaging with travelers during the inspection process. Travelers are also permitted to request to speak with a CBP supervisor at any time. CBP officials are mindful of the sensitivity of certain information and, as a policy, refrain from providing specific details regarding reasons for referral to secondary inspection if it is based on law enforcement and other sensitive information.

Complaint Mechanisms

CBP actively encourages travelers to submit complaints through various means, including posters and brochures in inspection areas at ports of entry. The agency’s posters and contact cards, observed during GAO visits, provide information on how travelers can provide feedback via phone, mail, or online forms. Stakeholder organizations have also played a crucial role in raising concerns, with representatives from five of the nine organizations interviewed stating that they have filed complaints with CRCL or CBP.

Investigations and Outcomes

From fiscal years 2017 through 2021, CRCL and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) received and investigated hundreds of complaints related to potential discrimination during traveler inspections. CRCL received 479 complaints and issued seven memoranda to CBP, outlining 22 recommendations. CBP has taken action in response to most recommendations, including providing training on nondiscrimination policies and updating its Personal Search Handbook. The OPR, responsible for investigating employee misconduct, received 443 complaints during the same period, taking action against employees in approximately 4% of cases, primarily through counseling, reprimand, or suspension.

Collaborative Efforts and Ongoing Improvements

As the GAO report comes to light, it underscores CBP’s commitment to addressing concerns, fostering transparency, and continuously refining its practices to ensure a fair and accountable traveler inspection process. The findings emphasize the importance of ongoing collaboration between CBP, DHS, and stakeholder organizations to maintain the highest standards in border security operations.

CBP officials have expressed their dedication to continuous improvement, acknowledging that an evolving global landscape requires adaptable and responsive border security measures. The agency remains committed to staying abreast of technological advancements, legal considerations, and international developments that may impact its inspection processes. Collaboration with stakeholders and open channels for feedback are seen as vital components in this commitment to excellence.

Global Impact and Future Initiatives

The report also highlights the global significance of CBP’s efforts, as it operates in an interconnected world where travel and trade are essential components of economic and social exchanges. By implementing best practices and robust mechanisms to prevent discrimination, CBP not only safeguards the U.S. borders but also contributes to international standards in border security and traveler inspection. The agency’s commitment to continuous learning, adaptation, and collaboration positions it as a leader in the evolving landscape of border security.

As CBP looks to the future, there is a recognition that emerging technologies, geopolitical shifts, and societal changes will necessitate ongoing adjustments to inspection practices. The agency is proactively exploring avenues for enhanced training, international collaboration, and stakeholder engagement to ensure that its processes remain at the forefront of efficiency, fairness, and security.

In conclusion, the GAO report affirms CBP’s dedication to maintaining the highest standards in its vital role at the forefront of U.S. border security. The agency’s multifaceted approach, encompassing policy adherence, training excellence, and robust complaint mechanisms, underscores its commitment to accountability and continuous improvement. As the global landscape evolves, CBP’s proactive stance positions it as a key player in shaping the future of secure and efficient international travel.

Read the full GAO report here.

Matt Seldon
Matt Seldon
Matt Seldon, BSc., is an Editorial Associate with HSToday. He has over 20 years of experience in writing, social media, and analytics. Matt has a degree in Computer Studies from the University of South Wales in the UK. His diverse work experience includes positions at the Department for Work and Pensions and various responsibilities for a wide variety of companies in the private sector. He has been writing and editing various blogs and online content for promotional and educational purposes in his job roles since first entering the workplace. Matt has run various social media campaigns over his career on platforms including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and LinkedIn on topics surrounding promotion and education. His educational campaigns have been on topics including charity volunteering in the public sector and personal finance goals.

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