U.S. Customs and Border Protection along with other inspectors prepare to board a train passing into the United States from Mexico at the Nogales Port of Entry in 2011. (Donna Burton/CBP)

GAO Slams ‘Outdated’ CBP Inspection Policies and Processes

Customs and Border Protection’s inspection policies are “outdated” and “don’t reflect new technology or threats”, according to an August 6 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Current CBP processes include reviewing travel documents, screening against law enforcement databases, and using canines and X-ray equipment. However, because CBP has not updated many of its policies—in a few cases for almost 20 years—the GAO review found they do not always reflect changes in technology or processes, such as those for conducting searches and handling fentanyl.

CBP uses various sets of measures to assess its efforts to detect illegal activity at land POEs. CBP performance measures generally reflect the key attributes of effective measures, but CBP does not set an ambitious and realistic target for one measure. CBP’s target for the land border interception rate—the estimated percentage of major violations in privately-owned vehicles that CBP intercepts out of the projected total number of major violations—is lower than the actual reported rate for fiscal years 2015 through 2018. GAO says a more ambitious target for the interception rate would better encourage CBP to review past performance of inspection activities that impact the measure and challenge CBP to identify ways to improve performance.

CBP has produced three comprehensive assessments, which analyzed aggregated results for certain types of covert tests, such as fraudulent document tests, conducted at land POEs in fiscal years 2013, 2014, and 2018. However, the review found that CBP has not done so for other types of tests, such as canine contraband detection tests, conducted from fiscal years 2013 through 2018.

GAO says opportunities exist to enhance analysis of the results from CBP’s national level Self-Inspection Program (SIP) and covert operational testing. The SIP is an annual self-assessment that ports of entry (POEs) conduct to determine compliance with CBP policies. CBP analyzes the results of the SIP annually to identify systemic compliance issues across CBP that year; however, it does not analyze noncompliance at individual POEs over time. By analyzing these data, CBP could better identify and address deficiencies at individual POEs.

GAO recommends CBP should:

  • review and update policies related to land port of entry inspections;
  • analyze the results of SIP over time and at a level necessary to identify and address potentially reoccurring inspection deficiencies at individual ports of entry;
  • implement a policy to conduct periodic comprehensive analyses of covert test findings; and
  • develop a new target for the land border interception rate for passengers in privately-owned vehicles with major violations that sets an ambitious and realistic goal based on past performance.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has concurred with the four recommendations. Responding to the GAO findings, DHS stated that the Office of Field Operations (OFO) has initiated a process to modernize handbooks, policy memoranda, and directives. With regard to the second recommendation, OFO plans to begin training on how to conduct this analysis so it may be conducted for 2021 SIP results. In answer to GAO’s third recommendation, DHS stated that CBP is in the process of writing a policy that will document procedures for comprehensive reporting, including periodic reviews of corrective actions taken to mitigate vulnerabilities. To meet the final recommendation OFO will set a new target for fiscal year 2020 using data from the previous three fiscal years.

Read the full report at GAO

Kylie Bielby has 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. She is an editor and contributor for Jane's by IHS Markit, a columnist for security and counter-terror publications, and a former managing editor for Homeland Security Today.

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