Follow up Report on Border Patrol's Efforts to
Improve Northern Border Security (Redacted Version)
Report No. I-2002-004
INS Northern Border Strategy
Since the Border Patrol had not initiated Phase IV of its Strategic Plan that included the northern border, our 2000 report recommended that the INS Commissioner direct the Border Patrol to outline the approach it would take to secure the northern border, including, but not limited to, the following:
In FY 2000, Attorney General Janet Reno directed the INS to develop an integrated strategy for securing the northern border. She stated that this was a top Department priority. In response, INS Deputy Commissioner Mary Ann Wyrsch convened a working group in August 2000 to develop an INS northern border strategy. The working group consisted of managers from INS field offices, Border Patrol sectors, INS regions, and INS Headquarters officials from Programs, Inspections, Border Patrol, Intelligence, and Investigations. The INS's Office of Programs was placed in charge of the project. In January 2001, the working group completed two documents - the INS Northern Border Strategy and a corresponding Implementation Plan Guidance and Framework. The Office of Programs presented the strategy to Attorney General Reno in January 2001, immediately prior to the change of Administration.
Since January 2001, the INS had made slow progress in implementing the strategy. According to the Acting Executive Associate Commissioner for the Office of Programs, the INS planned to wait until the new Administration took office to seek approval for its northern border strategy. Attorney General John Ashcroft was provided a copy of the strategy, but the INS elected not to take action to obtain approval until a new INS Commissioner was sworn in. However, Commissioner James Ziglar did not take office until August 6, 2002, and any further action on the implementation of the strategy was overwhelmed by the events of September 11, 2001.
Since September 11, the interaction between the U.S. and Canadian governments to promote cooperation along the northern border has accelerated. In December 2001, the Attorney General, the INS Commissioner, and the Homeland Security Director signed a 30-point action plan with Canadian officials. The action plan involves multiple federal agencies including the Department of Justice. The Department of State has lead responsibility for the plan. Elements of the plan relate to coordinated law enforcement operations, intelligence sharing, infrastructure improvements, improving compatible immigration databases, visa policy coordination, permanent resident cards, prescreening of air passengers, joint passenger analysis units, increasing the need of biometric identifiers, and improved refugee/asylum claims processing. INS officials told us that implementation of the plan is in progress. In January 2002, the Attorney General announced the temporary assignment of 100 Border Patrol agents to northern border sectors.
Border Patrol Northern Border Operations
Based on this follow-up review, we found that the Border Patrol has made improvements in some areas of its northern border enforcement operations since we issued our original report in February 2000. However, all eight Border Patrol sector chief patrol agents we interviewed described staffing, equipment, and intelligence support deficiencies at the northern border sectors.
The northern border sectors continue to have staffing shortfalls that hinder Border Patrol efforts to adequately monitor the northern border. In January 2002, the Border Patrol announced that it was temporarily deploying 100 Border Patrol agents to the northern border to augment the current staff. The deployment would begin in January 2002 and continue for approximately 60 days. It is not yet certain how these Border Patrol agents will be deployed or whether additional deployments will follow. The Border Patrol hopes to gain the necessary information from this deployment to more accurately determine its long-term staffing needs for the northern border.
The chief patrol agents we interviewed said that since February 2000, the greatest number of new agents that any northern border sector had received was nine, while another sector reported no increase in agents. Four of the eight sectors reported that because of continued staffing shortages none of their stations were operating on a 24-hour basis.
Border Patrol Agent Enhancements
In FY 1999, 324 Border Patrol agents (3.8 percent of the national total) were on duty at the northern border. In FY 2001, 368 Border Patrol agents were on duty at the northern border (about 3.9 percent of the national total). These additional 44 agents represent an increase of 13.6 percent in northern border staff. In comparison, in FY 2001 the southwest border had 9,065 Border Patrol agents (a 9.7 percent increase from 1999).
Table 1 - Border Patrol Agents On Duty
|Authorized Positions||FY 1999||FY 2000||FY 2001||Net Change||Percent Change|
|Source - Border Patrol Headquarters|
Border Patrol officials told the OIG that the recently enacted FY 2002 budget provides for 570 additional Border Patrol agent positions and that approximately 25 percent of these positions will be allocated to the northern border. This would bring the total number of Border Patrol agents on the northern border to approximately 510. Border Patrol officials told us that they feared that employment opportunities with the expanded federal air marshal program may not only hinder recruitment efforts but may also affect the retention of Border Patrol agents who are lured to the new program.
Border Patrol officials told the OIG that even if all of the new Border Patrol agents could be hired, trained, and brought on duty, serious infrastructure issues on the northern border continue to exist that must be addressed. These include office space for the new Border Patrol agents and additional detention space (assuming additional Border Patrol agents will make additional arrests).
Support Staff Enhancements
We found a great need exists for additional support staff on the northern border. Most chief patrol agents told the OIG they need additional technical support personnel (such as pilots, computer specialists, communications and electronics technicians, vehicle and boat mechanics) to operate, repair, or maintain aircraft, vehicles, boats, computers, cameras, sensors, and radios. This need varies from sector to sector depending on its specific equipment problems.
Related to this issue, the Border Patrol developed an accounting system to track the number of hours Border Patrol agents were diverted from enforcement time to support activities. The intent of the system was to provide documentation to validate support staff enhancement requests. However, the system was used to monitor enforcement hours. Chief patrol agents said they were pressured by INS management to reduce the number of Border Patrol agent hours used for non-enforcement activities. As a result, support activities are often not completed or not completed timely.
The shortage of support staff is not a problem unique to the northern border. The Border Patrol has not received, though it has requested, support staff enhancements for the last three fiscal years. During the same period, its technical and mechanical support requirements rose dramatically with an influx of new sensors, night vision devices, computers, and vehicles.
The OIG 2000 report described temporary duty assignments for Border Patrol agents from the under-staffed northern sectors to assist southwest Border Patrol operations. The report found that the resulting staff reductions on the northern border had an adverse effect on northern border enforcement operations. In its November 2000 response to the OIG report, the INS stated that the Border Patrol had discontinued the practice of detailing Border Patrol agents from northern sectors to the southwest border.
We confirmed during our interviews with the chief patrol agents in the eight northern sectors that temporary duty assignments to the southwest border have ceased. However, other temporary duty assignments away from the northern border were still occurring. Six of the eight chief patrol agents reported that one or two of their agents were temporarily assigned out of their sectors to support an operation in Florida during the past two years. Three of the four northern sectors were providing Border Patrol agents to this operation at the time of our interviews in October and November 2001. Additionally, the two northern sectors in the Western Region also had been providing Border Patrol agents to this operation.
The temporary assignment to support this operation usually lasted 30 days. Some sectors assigned one or more Border Patrol agents every month, while other sectors sent them every other month. An Eastern Region official told us that assigning Border Patrol agents from the northern border to support. The operation ended in December 2001. According to the chief patrol agents along the northern border, the temporary assignment of even one or two Border Patrol agents had a significant impact on their northern border sector operations.
The equipment needs of the northern border sectors have not been completely met. This year some of the northern border sectors have received or anticipate receiving new equipment such as boats, snowmobiles, and infrared cameras while other sectors were unsure of what equipment, if any, will be allotted to them. The original OIG report recognized the diverse geography of the northern border sectors, which have dense forests and hundreds of miles of lakes and rivers, and therefore different equipment needs. Two of the northern sectors (Detroit and Buffalo) are responsible for patrolling a border that is entirely comprised of water, except for crossing points at bridges and tunnels.
During our interviews, the chief patrol agents generally responded positively in describing the availability and the condition of their vehicles. The northern sectors received 41 new vehicles in FY 2001. The number and condition of boats available to conduct enforcement activities also has improved since our original report. However, three chief patrol agents said shortages in boats still affect enforcement activities. Most of the chief patrol agents also said that additional air patrol support would enhance enforcement operations.
The Border Patrol has made additions to the sensor systems arrayed on the northern border, deploying additional sensor systems to five of the eight sectors in FY 2001. All eight sectors received additional night vision devices in FY 2001. 3
The Border Patrol's radio equipment continues to be problematic. For example, five of the eight chief patrol agents said their radio systems were either completely or partially outdated, inadequate, or lacked other significant capabilities.
Responsibility for INS's radio systems resides with the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Wireless Management Office (WMO), which manages the Justice Wireless Network. The WMO controls all procurement activities and operating funds for the entire DOJ radio system. The Border Patrol identifies its needs to the WMO and is subject to the WMO's processes and decisions. The DOJ's existing radio system is scheduled for replacement in 2005. The Border Patrol does control the acquisition of hand-held radios and has purchased radios for the six sectors still equipped with the existing old radio systems.
The intelligence capability to support enforcement operations in the northern border sectors continues to be limited. Most chief patrol agents described their intelligence gathering and sharing capabilities as good, given the resources available. However, most chief patrol agents stated a need for additional intelligence officers. As previously discussed, the Border Patrol has not received support position enhancements. This includes intelligence analyst positions. These staffing limitations restrict the Border Patrol's ability to effectively analyze and disseminate the intelligence data it has collected.
According to some data supplied by Border Patrol officials, the northern sectors have received technology enhancements to provide better intelligence support to law enforcement operations. These include additional systems that provide Border Patrol agents with access to certain databases and provide tools to support law enforcement operations.
The chief patrol agents all characterized the intelligence relationships and cooperation with Canadian intelligence and law enforcement authorities as ranging from very good to exceptional. The same was said of the relationship with state and local law enforcement.
Changes in Operations Since September 11, 2001
The chief patrol agents unanimously agreed that border control and security had become their number one priority since September 11, 2001. Consequently, collateral duties such as recruitment and training were not receiving the previous level of attention. Some chief patrol agents used the term "forward deployment" in describing an increase of Border Patrol agents and equipment to the border to project a heightened border presence. One chief patrol agent said the four agents assigned to interior stations in his sector were redeployed to stations on the border. This action is forcing the sectors to reduce their emphasis on other enforcement duties. For example, the Border Patrol may not be able to respond as quickly to a request from state and local law enforcement agencies for assistance on an immigration-related matter.
Since September 11, 2001, almost all sectors immediately increased working hours (12-hour days in most instances), established 6 or 7 day work weeks, and cancelled all annual leave. The ceiling for overtime pay for Border Patrol agents has been temporarily set aside to allow for extended duty hours. The chief patrol agents said they have been employing 24-hour, 7-day-a-week operations in as many of the sector's stations as possible, given current staffing levels. One chief patrol agent said the three railroad bridges and the three boats in his sector are now being staffed 24 hours, 7 days a week. Even with the additional overtime, the northern sectors still cannot staff all stations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. According to the chief patrol agents, the extended duty hours have not yet had a negative effect on morale or duty performance. Still, they have begun to reduce the number of hours they are requiring agents to work and are approving leave requests.
On December 14, 2001, the INS directed the northern Border Patrol sectors to submit plans to create or expand Integrated Border Enforcement Team (IBET) and/or Integrated Maritime Enforcement Team (IMET) at their locations. The IBET/IMETs are international, multi-agency groups that pool law enforcement assets, share information, and work collaboratively with all law enforcement agencies having jurisdiction with the United States-Canada border. The plans are due to INS headquarters in January 2002.