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GAO Reviews CBP’s Expanding Public-Private Partnerships

While partners reimbursed CBP more than $30 million for overtime hours in 2019, the restrictions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic brought that down to $12.2 million in 2020.

Public-private partnership programs with Customs and Border Protection continue to grow despite the pandemic causing dips in the need for reimbursable services at ports of entry, the Government Accountability Office reported.

With 328 ports of entry, more than 491,000 people and 87,000 truck, rail, and sea containers came into the United States each day in fiscal year 2021.

Since GAO reported on CBP’s public-private partnership programs in January 2021, the agency has expanded its Reimbursable Services Program (RSP), which allows partner port authorities to reimburse CBP for services outside the scope of normal operations such as paying overtime to CBP personnel conducting activities including agricultural processing or immigration inspection at ports of entry, and the Donations Acceptance Program (DAP), which allows the donation of cash or materials to make infrastructure improvements at ports of entry for either CBP or in consultation with the General Services Administration.

GAO biennially reviews the agreements per congressional mandate, analyzing the programs and how CBP used funds under the agreements. CBP’s Alternative Funding Programs office manages and oversees both programs.

Since fiscal year 2013, GAO says in its new report, CBP has selected 263 RSPs, with 27 new partnerships added since the beginning of 2021 and two applications denied for not being operationally feasible. In that time period CBP has entered into 43 DAP partnerships, with four added last year.

“As of October 2021, CBP and its partners had executed 165 MOUs from partnerships that they entered into since fiscal year 2013,” the report notes. “Of those 165 MOUs, 11 cover agreements at land POEs, 49 cover agreements at sea POEs, and 105 cover agreements at air POEs. The majority of MOUs executed since 2013 were at air POEs and focused on freight, cargo, and traveler processing.”

While partners reimbursed CBP more than $30 million for overtime hours in 2019, the restrictions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic brought that down to $12.2 million in 2020.

“Although the number of RSP partners has increased since our January 2021 report, the growth in the total number of RSP-related CBP officer assignments, officer overtime hours, and reimbursed funds have continued to be less than in 2019, before the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic,” GAO reported. “In September 2021, CBP officials said that although the number of requests for RSP services is currently below prepandemic levels, the number of requests for RSP services and the number of applications that CBP receives were beginning to increase. Furthermore, officials told us that their outreach efforts to stakeholders includes communicating application requirements and time frames and encouraging potential applicants to apply in advance of when they will need services.”

The number of vehicles inspected by CBP under the RSP dropped from 303,905 in 2019 to just 57,891 in 2020. The number of travelers inspected — by air, land, and sea — as requested by partners under the agreements dropped from 2,412,997 in 2019 to 500,145 in 2020.

Partners in the Donations Acceptance Program agreements “span a variety of sectors such as state and local governments, private companies, and airline companies,” and “donations served a variety of purposes such as expanding inspection facility infrastructure, providing biometric detection services, and providing luggage for canine training.”

“As of September 2021, 30 out of 43 DAP projects, or 70 percent, were at land POEs. CBP officials estimated that the total value of all DAP donations entered into between September 2015 and October 2021 was $216.8 million,” the report states.

Recent DAP agreements include one for “smartphones with unlimited data and a smartphone application that will read Quick Response codes, developed by Nike,” a pact with the Texas Department of Transportation for “closed circuit Television cameras and computer equipment in support of GSA-lead fiscal year 2014 Pharr border safety inspection facility project,” an agreement with the city of Del Rio, Texas, for “expansion of the roadway to include two new lanes and all the required appurtenances,” and with the Anzalduas Bridge Board to build a seventh booth to process vehicle traffic.

GAO’s first annual report in March 2018, issued after implementation of the Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act of 2016, “found that CBP uses various processes to monitor and evaluate its partnerships, but could benefit from establishing an evaluation plan to assess overall performance.” CBP implemented that recommendation.

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, anti-Semitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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