The Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified 29 priority recommendations for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in April 2020. Since then, DHS has implemented 12 of those recommendations.
In the realm of border security, following GAO’s recommendations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) implemented two recommendations that improved radiological material license verification policies and procedures. GAO believes these actions will provide greater security in preventing misuse of radiological materials by terrorists.
As a result of GAO’ s recommendations, CBP has also developed several statistical models to assess the risk of importer nonpayment of antidumping and countervailing (AD/CV) duties, taxes and fees. The government watchdog says the model should enable CBP to better predict the importers’ likelihood of nonpayment. In addition, the model could assist CBP in its decision on whether an additional single transaction bond is required to hedge against the possibility of revenue loss from delinquency on the payment of AD/CV duties, taxes and fees.
Also, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) has strengthened efforts to assess and address fraud risks within the asylum process following a GAO audit.
Currently however, DHS has 17 priority recommendations remaining from those GAO identified in 2020. The watchdog has also added a further 21 new recommendations.
Of the recommendations outstanding, 14 relate to border security.
In March 2014, GAO recommended that CBP analyze data to determine the contribution of surveillance technologies to CBP’s border security efforts. In its August 23, 2021 update, GAO says the U.S. Border Patrol has taken steps to address this recommendation.
“In September 2020, CBP officials briefed us on their efforts to develop a model that uses quantitative and qualitative analysis that will help Border Patrol determine what resources, including technology, would benefit operations. In July 2021, CBP reported that Border Patrol was continuing to develop this model and it was on track to be completed in fiscal year 2022.”
In February 2017, GAO made a recommendation to DHS to develop metrics to assess the contributions of pedestrian and vehicle fencing to border security along the southwest border. In September 2020, CBP officials briefed GAO on their efforts to develop a model that uses quantitative and qualitative analysis that will help Border Patrol determine what resources, including fencing, would benefit Border Patrol’s operations. In July 2021, CBP reported that Border Patrol was continuing to develop this model and it was on track to be completed in fiscal year 2022.
In July 2016, GAO made two recommendations to CBP: one on improving the management of the AD/CV duty liquidation process and one on improving the risk management in its collection of AD/CV duties. GAO’s update states that as of July 2021, “CBP had taken steps to address each of these recommendations, but additional steps are still needed. CBP had begun tracking some liquidation processing errors. CBP’s main effort to reduce the number of untimely liquidations focuses on increasing uniformity in the liquidation process through additional training, automation, and better guidance. However, it does not collect or analyze data on the effects of these liquidations on revenue.
“From July 2016 to May 2021, CBP took steps to develop a riskbased framework, including the use of a risk-based single transaction bond. In June 2021, CBP announced that it would not implement the risk-based single transaction bond due in part to the complexity of the framework in determining if an additional risk-based single transaction bond was needed and in what amount. CBP announced that it would instead implement a risk-based framework by leveraging existing authorities and completing several initiatives, including automating its bond sufficiency checks.”
CBP stated that it intends to complete the process of updating its existing authorities and fully automating bond sufficiency checks by September 30, 2021.
In July 2018, GAO recommended that CBP analyze the costs associated with future barrier segments along the southwest border and include cost as a factor in the Impedance and Denial Prioritization Strategy. DHS concurred with the recommendation. According to GAO, in March 2021, CBP officials stated that this cost information may affect how the construction projects are executed, but that it would not influence how CBP prioritizes barrier construction projects across various locations. GAO maintains that CBP needs to analyze the costs associated with future barrier construction projects and incorporate that analysis into how it prioritizes construction of barriers in certain border locations.
In July 2015, GAO recommended that DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) jointly develop and implement a documented interagency process with clearly defined roles and responsibilities for all agencies involved in the referral and placement of unaccompanied children in HHS shelters. In a February 2020 update, GAO found that “DHS and HHS had not resolved long-standing differences in opinion about how and what information agencies are to share related to the care and placement of unaccompanied children, including those referred to HHS after a family separation. In particular, HHS officials identified additional information they need from DHS about those adults apprehended with children and later separated.”
As of March 2021, DHS and HHS are developing new data systems to help track and share information about unaccompanied children, including separated children. In March 2021, DHS components and HHS signed a memorandum of agreement on unaccompanied children information sharing that outlines the use of HHS’s new system, among other things. DHS and HHS have told GAO that they would provide an update on the status of their efforts by September 2021.
In February 2020, GAO made two recommendations to DHS to address fragmentation in its processes for identifying and sharing information about noncitizen family members apprehended at the southwest border. In June 2020, DHS’s Office of Immigration Statistics launched an interagency group that includes subject matter experts and data system managers. The group’s mandate includes drafting common DHS-wide and interagency data standards for all information on noncitizen family members. GAO notes that DHS also plans to work with relevant components to develop a unique, shared identifier linking family members apprehended together. GAO reports in its update that “as of May 2021, these actions are underway and DHS expects to complete them by September 30, 2021”.
In July 2020, GAO recommended that CBP develop and implement oversight mechanisms for CBP’s implementation of policies and procedures relating to medical care for individuals in its custody, to include documentation of expected practices, metrics and corresponding performance targets, and roles and responsibilities for taking corrective action. As of March 2021, officials told GAO that CBP is taking a variety of steps to implement the recommendation, including incorporating medical quality management requirements into its medical support contract and developing a protocol for management inspections at CBP facilities. According to CBP officials, CBP expects to complete these efforts in September 2021.
In December 2019, GAO made three recommendations to CBP to improve its drawback claim validation activities to help mitigate risks of improper payments in the drawback program. “As of April 2021, CBP officials said they are taking steps that they expect to complete by January 2022—such as developing a proposal and plan to effectively track export submissions and correcting the ACE’s targeting feature—to implement our recommendations”, GAO’s update notes.
In February 2021, GAO recommended that DHS, together with the Department of Defense (DOD), define a common outcome for DOD’s support to DHS. This recommendation is intended to enhance coordination of interagency efforts to provide support to DHS’s current border security mission and provide both departments with information needed to plan for effective border operations. “In order to address our recommendation, the department needs to come to an agreement with DOD on the desired outcome for DOD’s support to CBP’s southern border operations beyond the current fiscal year,” said GAO. “This agreement could be documented in a number of ways and, in April 2021, CBP and Border Patrol officials told us that DHS is considering several options for acting on this recommendation. We will continue to monitor DHS’s progress.”
Much of the outstanding work required to meet GAO’s recommendations is nearing completion, although it is possible that the joint burdens of the pandemic and recent surges at the border may have impacted CBP’s efforts further.