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Inspection of the Secure Electronic Network
for Travelers' Rapid Inspection

Report Number I-2000-019
June 2000


  U.S. Department of Justice

DELIVERY BY HANDWashington, D.C 20530
JUNE 16, 2000

Ms. Mary W. Demory
Assistant Inspector General
for Inspections
Office of the Inspector General
1425 New York Avenue, NW
Suite 6052
Washington, DC 20530

Re: OIG Report SENTRI-A-98-35

Dear Ms. Demory:

We appreciate the opportunity to address the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) draft report, dated April 14, 2000, on the subject inspection. We are delivering this response pursuant to instructions received from Paul Price of your staff.

We respectfully differ with the QIG on its finding that the Immigration and Naturalization Services's (INS) northern border alternative inspection pilots are SENTRI sites. Possibly QIG failed to appreciate that the Departments of Justice and Treasury organized the SENTRI JPI Lab Team to address and remedy border crossing traffic and integrity issues peculiar to southern border ports-of-entry, and that SENTRI as developed by the Lab Team exists only at two southern border ports-of-entry.

Even though INS, in a variety of documents, refers to many of the automated inspection pilots as SENTRI projects, the northern border automated lanes operate without the sanction and sponsorship of the SENTRI Lab Team. Furthermore, they operate without the full complement of technologies and functions developed by the Lab Team for SENTRI lanes.

Consequently, we find illogical the combination of data from INS inspection pilots along the northern border with the operations data for SENTRI. By combining the data for these programs--programs disparate in design and operation- - the report evidences a methodological flaw so serious that it renders many of the findings meaningless.

Furthermore, the field work upon which the report was drafted suffers because the report's findings and conclusions were reached based on a visit to only one of the four SENTRI sites on the southern border.

The OIG did not take into consideration the operating statistics for the three SENTRI inspection lanes in El Paso, Texas. The Report lacks this data because OIG staff declined to visit the El Paso SENTRI lanes although they were fully operational for almost nine months before the report was issued.

SENTRI: A Multi-Agency Solution for the Southern Border.

A wealth of data demonstrates that the JPI Lab Team developed its SENTRI border crossing solution to address the unique characteristics of international travelers entering this country via cars from Mexico. We already provided OIG with copies of all the documents referenced below.1 In addition, the data shows that, even though individual Lab Team members assisted the INS by installing SENTRI-like technology at Buffalo or Detroit, the Lab Team voted to not make a wholesale conversion of those existing pilots into SENTRI lanes.

The program titled by its creators as SENTRI was developed specifically to address special conditions found at southern border sites. This is self evident from a review of the history of pilot experiments designed as alternatives to the historical one-inspector to one-vehicle inspection process.

Alternative Inspection Programs.

The events leading to the establishment of the JPI SENTRI Lab Team in 1995 demonstrate that the SENTRI process was designed for inspecting passenger vehicles crossing northbound from Mexico into the United States. When the two largest border inspection services, INS and the U.S. Customs Service (Customs), began experimenting with alternative inspection methodologies, they operated pilots on our northern border with Canada. Congress withheld authority for developing alternatives on the southern border until the mid-1990s because Congress believed that the high number of alien and contraband smuggling incidents at southern ports called for far greater security than might be developed for the initial pilots.

Although the northern border pilots enjoyed varying levels of success, especially the alternatives that facilitate commuter traffic called Dedicated Commuter Lanes (DCLs), Congress remained reluctant about experiments on the southern United States border. Indeed, when Congress lifted its ban on southern border experiments, it mandated greater security for any such pilots and restricted their deployment only at ports in southern California.

Southern Border Unique Concerns Yield SENTRI.

Within months after Congress acted, JPI and INS formulated a proposal for a southern border DCL and it addressed the three major concerns for such projects, including:

(2) preventing pilot participants from compromising border integrity and security; and

The Deputy Attorney General reviewed the proposal and decided that devising a new southern border inspection solution required both a novel approach and resources beyond those of INS. Consequently, JPI organized a Lab Team and staffed it with a border affairs prosecutor from the United States Attorney's Office in San Diego, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent with expertise in foreign liaison with Mexico, an agent from the Drug Enforcement Administration with expertise in background screening, a Southwest Border technical expert, and Customs and INS inspectors. The Department of Transportation joined the Lab about a year later. SENTRI was not then, and is not now, solely an INS project.

SENTRI JPI Lab Team Documents.

At least 50 documents generated by the SENTRI Lab Team show that:

  1. its initial efforts focused exclusively on building a special, secure, automated DCL at Otay Mesa;
  2. the only site visits and site reports the Team made were for expanding SENTRI at southern border ports;
  3. the Team created business plans only for Otay Mesa, El Paso, and the Border Patrol PAL lane- -where SENTRI-like technology automates the commuter lane; and,
  4. the JPI Lab Team specifically rejected the idea of converting into SENTRI lanes the two northern ports DCLs at Buffalo, NY, and Detroit, MI.

JPI Sets Parameters For the Lab Team.

DOJ charged this Lab Team with developing its pilot at Otay Mesa, CA, trained the Team and its leader, and required that a mission statement, charter, and business plan be developed. These documents describe the Team's goal in terms of the issues unique to the southern border. No mention of a northern port-of-entry appears anywhere in these documents.

The SENTRI Team and Southern Border Sites.

The southern border focus of the SENTRI JPI Lab Team reveals itself in:

  1. The published SENTRI Performance Measurement Plan (Plan),which states, in pertinent part:
    Ethel Plan produces measures and statistics that can be used to analyze how well the SENTRI automated inspection system meets the goals stated in its mission statement: improving border integrity and security while simultaneously expediting the northbound passage of travelers' crossing over our international border with Mexico. (Emphasis added).
  2. The Senate Report that accompanied the DOJ Budget Authorization Bill for FY 1997, which states that DOJ should spread the SENTRI concept from Otay to five other cities. Congress went so far as to identify each by name; all of them were along the southern border.

  3. The Site Survey Report for San Luis and Nogales, Arizona; Hidalgo, Laredo, and El Paso, Texas; and San Ysidro, California. This Report was drafted, beginning in August 1996, when the JPI SENTRI Team prepared to expand its efforts and it visited, over an eight month period, a number of cites the JPI Team felt might be suited to SENTRI. No mention of a northern port appeared in the Report, which INS already delivered to 0IG.

  4. The Statement of Work, prepared in August of 1997, by the self-managed JPI SENTRI Team for INS so it might solicit bids from contractors to assist in the development of hardware and software for SENTRI at sites other than Otay Mesa. That document leaves no doubt that SENTRI is a southern border project. It states, in pertinent part, that the:
    ...contractor shall base cost assumptions on implementing 3 of the 6 new SENTRI sites in the first year. Potential SENTRI sites include: San Ysidro, California; Nogales, Arizona; El Paso, Texas; Laredo, Texas; Hidalgo, Texas; and San Luis, Arizona.

    No mention was made of a northern border site.

The JPI Lab Assists Others.

Three times over the past four years others asked the SENTRI Lab Team for assistance. After SENTRI enjoyed success at Otay Mesa, INS requested that the JPI SENTRI Lab Team incorporate into its project the automation of a commuter lane at the checkpoint the Border Patrol maintained at San Clemente, CA. The JPI Lab Team took the issue under advisement and agreed to help. As it had with the initial project, JPI required the Team to prepare a business plan for the San Clemente project.

About the same time the San Clemente project was raised, a Department of Treasury Lab asked SENTRI to work the North American Trade Automated Prototype (NATAP) Project. On October 10, 1996, the SENTRI lab Team discussed the proposal, which it agreed to accept. The SENTRI Team held meetings with NATAP representatives beginning in November 1996. Later, a temporary enrollment center was established and truck drivers participating in NATAP had their backgrounds checked by those working in the SENTRI enrollment center at Otay Mesa.

Neither of these two efforts were called SENTRI or considered by the Team as SENTRI programs.

The Northern Border Ports.

When the INS proposed automating the existing alternative inspection pilots at Buffalo and Detroit, it again asked the SENTRI JPI Team for assistance. The JPI SENTRI Team debated the issue and voted to limit its efforts to simply assisting the two bridge authorities in automating one of their existing inspection lanes. The JPI Team's deliberation and vote was recorded in the minutes of SENTRI JPI Team meetings. The minutes for meetings held on August 19, 20 and 21, 1997, show that the JPI Team agreed to share portions of the SENTRI technology with Detroit and Buffalo. However, when the issue of converting the two existing DCLs into SENTRI lanes was debated "There [was] a Team consensus that Detroit has no real need for a [SENTRI] DCL at the present time and they would rather spend the money on a site that is in need." The Team noted that, with respect to Buffalo,

"[T]hey are resistant to charging a fee and to SENTRI's involvement with the DCL. Their [Buffalo's] thought is they've had a DCL for some time and they can run it any way they want."

The conversion of Buffalo and Detroit to SENTRI lanes and having the JPI Lab Team assume responsibility for the lanes came up again. The Team put the issue to rest in the summer of 1998. The list of Action Items prepared from the minutes of the meeting in July reflect the Team vote to not assume responsibility for the automated inspection lanes at Buffalo and Detroit. One Action Item reads:

"T. Campbell along with G. St.Clair, R. Theis, and B. Mocny will be involved in informing the [SENTRI Executive Review Board] that SENTRI is not on the Northern Borders (Buffalo & Detroit)."

SENTRI Reports Memorialize Team Progress and Focus.

JPI monitored the SENTRI Team's progress via quarterly progress reports. The first discussion about expanding SENTRI to sites other than Otay Mesa appears on page 5 of the 1st Quarter FY 1997" Report. Although the issue was raised, it was tabled.

The Report for the 3rd Quarter FY 1997' shows that the JPI Team began assisting the INS develop technology for the DCLs at Detroit and Buffalo, and for the Border Patrol's Pre-enrolled Access Lane (PAL) at San Clemente, CA. About this time, SENTRI prepared and submitted to JPI a Business Plan for the San Clemente project. No such document was prepared for Buffalo or Detroit at that time, or anytime since.

Even though the JPI Team agreed to provide assistance to the Border Patrol, the majority of the work was performed by the INS members of the Team, as was explained on page 4 of the quarterly Report for the 3rd Quarter FY 1997." During this quarter, the Team and its Executive Review Board became aware that SENTRI would be asked to help fulfill the Administration's Impact Center goal of deploying five more SENTRI lanes on the southern border.

The Report for the quarter ending June 30, 1999, shows that "JPI and the agencies involved with SENTRI have agreed to the continuation of SENTRI as a Lab, at least until the five planned [DCLsJ on the Southwest border have been completed."

At no time did the JPI SENTRI Lab Team adopt Buffalo or Detroit as SENTRI sites, an irrefutable fact demonstrated by these reports.

Business Plans for JPI Lab Team.

SENTRI prepared business plans and Gantt charts for all of its activities. Not one included activity of any sort at any northern border port-of-entry.


The documents provided to OIG show that the JPI and the JPI Lab team that developed SENTRI deliberately avoided becoming sponsors or managing entities for any alternative inspection project on the northern border. Although the OIG staff received the documents referenced herein, they either decided to ignore them or dismissed their importance. Whatever, the insistence to treat the two northern ports as being the same as SENTRI sites evidences a gross misunderstanding of the difference between the northern and southern automated inspection pilots. Moreover, by combining the operating statics for northern ports with that of the SENTRI lane at Otay Mesa, OIG reaches statistical results and conclusions that misstate the operating performance of the SENTRI lane at Otay Mesa. In addition, the draft report fails to include any operating statistics for the other three SENTRI lanes in El Paso. Consequently, the report's findings and recommendations only have modest value.


Robert F. Diegelman
Management and Planning Staff
Justice Management Division

1  The documents provided were the SENTRI Performance Measurement Plan, as amended in 1999; minutes and actions items for those SENTRI Lab meetings that pertain to northern border cites; all the quarterly reports that the Lab Team filed with the Justice Partnership for Innovation (formerly Justice Performance Review and hereafter as JPI); the Lab Team's business/project plans; the draft SENTRI marketing plan; the SENTRI Mission Statement; and the SENTRI Charter.