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Saturday, January 28, 2023

GAO: Malfunctioning Technology and Lack of Infrastructure Information at Land Border Crossings

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report reveals that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) lacks complete information on infrastructure conditions at border crossings.

CBP and the General Services Administration (GSA) own, lease or manage all of the nation’s 167 land border crossings. Many were built over 70 years ago and struggle to keep up with the usage demanded of them.

For its review, GAO analyzed land border crossing data and documentation, including CBP and GSA facility assessments, CBP capital investment plans for fiscal years 2014 through 2018, and data for GSA capital infrastructure projects active during those years. GAO also interviewed officials from CBP field offices that oversee all crossings about infrastructure constraints and visited 16 crossings selected based on high traffic volume and border crossings CBP has prioritized for infrastructure improvement.

CBP reported infrastructure constraints at land border crossings including limited inspection capacity, technology challenges, and security limitations. For example, CBP officers stated that vehicle inspection technologies may not always function correctly. At a land border crossing on the southern border, license plate readers and radiation portal monitors are inoperable at least once a week during summer months due to overheating, according to CBP officials. Temperatures can exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit and the technology is exposed to the sun. Officials also complained of a lack of availability of non-intrusive inspection (NII) technology. CBP officers stated that the availability of NII technology improves their ability to conduct inspections. However, it is not always available because it may need maintenance or repair, or CBP may share the technology with multiple land border crossings. Officers stated they may perform manual inspections of vehicles when NII technology is not available, which they noted can be less effective.

However, GAO found that CBP does not have complete information on infrastructure conditions at all land border crossings. Specifically, CBP assessed facility conditions at four of the 40 land border crossings it owns from 2016 through 2018. Further, CBP has not developed a plan to ensure it conducts such assessments, consistent with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy which calls for them every three years.

In addition, while CBP and GSA are both responsible for assessing facility conditions at 101 GSA-owned land border crossings, they do not consistently share or use each other’s information.

CBP prioritizes land border crossing capital projects in a five-year plan, which by statute is to be submitted with DHS’s annual budget request to Congress. In fiscal years 2014 through 2018, CBP submitted two plans on time, submitted two plans more than 100 days after submission of the budget request, and did not submit a plan in one year due to delays in the plan’s review and approval process.

GAO found that the 10 completed or ongoing GSA land border crossing capital projects in fiscal years 2014 through 2018 generally experienced schedule growth ranging from 0 to 59 percent, but stayed within a 10 percent cost contingency allowance. Circumstances contributing to increased project costs or schedule growth include funding lags between project design and construction, and CBP-requested changes during construction to meet evolving mission needs, according to GSA and CBP officials.

GAO has made seven recommendations to CBP and GSA with the aim of improving information collection and infrastructure assessment across the land border operations:

  1. The CBP Commissioner, in conjunction with the DHS Office of the Chief Readiness Support Officer, should develop and implement a plan to ensure that CBP executes its Facility Condition Assessment (FCA) program by conducting FCAs at each CBP-owned land border crossing consistent with DHS Directive 119-02- 004.
  2. The CBP Commissioner should share FCA reports with GSA and use facility condition information in GSA’s Building Assessment Tool to inform FCAs.
  3. The GSA Administrator should share Building Assessment Tool reports with CBP and use facility condition information in CBP’s FCAs to inform its assessments through the Building Assessment Tool.
  4. The GSA Administrator, in conjunction with CBP, should share with CBP information on GSA maintenance and repair work at GSA-owned land border crossings at the level of detail necessary to inform CBP’s data in TRIRIGA.
  5. The CBP Commissioner should use information on maintenance and repair work conducted by GSA at GSA-owned land border crossings to update facility condition information in TRIRIGA on an ongoing basis.
  6. The CBP Commissioner should establish review time frames for stakeholders involved in its Five-year Capital Investment Plan review and approval process.
  7. The CBP Commissioner should establish and document a methodology for its annual land border crossing capital prioritization process that includes procedures and time frames for each step.

DHS and GSA concurred with all the recommendations. DHS stated it has already begun receiving data from GSA on corrective maintenance work at land border crossings and that CBP will develop a plan for updating facility condition information in TRIRIGA using the data.

Read the full report at GAO

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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