Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano is fond of claiming that U.S. border security is “better than ever.” However, a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that details how DHS quantifies how well the borders are guarded tells a different story.
The GAO reports shows that only 44 percent of the 2,000 miles that make up the southwest border are actively watched by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CPB).
“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 a written testimony.
According to the testimony, because of the low levels of “operational control” over vast segments of the U.S. border at the end of fiscal year 2010, DHS simply stopped using the amount of border space it was actively patrolling as a measure of the effectiveness of Border Patrol programs that fall under its authority.
Instead, DHS counts the number of illegal border crossers it catches and uses the number as an “interim” measure of Border Patrol effectiveness. That process, according to GAO officials, hinders Congressional oversight and shields DHS from accountability for ineffective border protection practices it may have in place.
“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 testified. “As GAO previously testified, this interim measure, which reports on program activity levels and not program results, limits DHS and congressional oversight and accountability.”
Congress provided Border Patrol with a massive increase in resources in 2004 and has invested about $4.4 billion in southwest border technology and infrastructure since 2006. Some of the money was used to nearly double the number of Border Patrol agents — from about 9,500 to 18,500. Gambler contends that these expansions in funding were provided under the assumption that they would be primarily to increase directly the amount of border space over which the DHS has “operational control.” But because the agency no longer measures its effectiveness in terms of how much border it actively patrols, there is no way of measuring a return on investment.
“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.
One explanation for the DHS move to drop actual patrolling of the border from the list it uses to measure Border Patrol’s effectiveness could be that the agency is focusing more resources on creating checkpoints within the U.S. border.
In the years following the funding increases, American travelers in border States have been met more and more often by Constitutionally questionable Border Patrol checkpoints — sometimes up to 100 miles from the border.