The GAO said that by the end of fiscal 2010, the Border Patrol had been able to secure “operational control” of only 44 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border. Then, with 56 percent of the border not under “operational control,” DHS simply stopped using “operational control” as a measure of the Border Patrol’s performance.
Since then, DHS has counted the number of illegal border crossers the Border Patrol apprehends, and used this count as an “interim” measure of whether the Border Patrol is accomplishing its mission.
According to GAO, this “interim” measure limits DHS’s accountability and Congress’s ability to conduct oversight of the department.
“At the end of fiscal year 2010, DHS reported achieving varying levels of operational control of 873 (44 percent) of the nearly 2,000 southwest border miles,” Rebecca Gambler, the GAO’s director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues told the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on the Border.
“In fiscal year 2011, citing a need to establish new goals and measures that reflect a more quantitative methodology and an evolving vision for border control, DHS transitioned to using the number of apprehensions on the southwest border as an interim goal and measure,” Gambler said. “As GAO previously testified, this interim measure, which reports on program activity levels and not program results, limits DHS and congressional oversight and accountability.”
Starting in 2004, Congress provided the Border Patrol with a significant increase in resources, which until 2010 were focused on actually securing the physical border of the United States.
“For example, from fiscal years 2004 through 2011, the number of Border Patrol agents on the southwest border nearly doubled, from about 9,500 to about 18,500; and DHS reported that since fiscal year 2006, about $4.4 billion has been invested in southwest border technology and infrastructure,” Gambler testified. “Through fiscal year 2010, these resources were used to support DHS’s goal to achieve ‘operational control’ of the nation’s borders by reducing cross-border illegal activity.”
“The extent of operational control—also referred to as effective control—was defined as the number of border miles where Border Patrol had the capability to detect, respond to, and interdict cross-border illegal activity,” Gambler testified.
In its most recent strategic plan for DHS, the Obama Administration indicated that it intended to begin focusing resources on “mitigating risk” from illegal penetration of the U.S. border rather than increasing the security of the border itself.
But GAO concluded that the interim measure of counting the illegal border crossers the Border Patrol actually apprehended was not a good measure of the agency’s effectiveness.
“Further, studies commissioned by CBP have documented that the number of apprehensions bears little relationship to effectiveness because agency officials do not compare these numbers with the amount of cross-border illegal activity,” Gambler testified.
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