Testifying before the House Homeland Security subcommittee on border and maritime security, Rebecca Gambler, the acting director for homeland security and justice issues at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), raised concerns about how the agency’s performance would be evaluated, and stressed the importance of “outcome-oriented measures.”
The subcommittee hearing focused on the Border Patrol’s 2012 Strategic Plan, which Michael Fisher, the agency’s chief, told the panel aims to target and dedicate resources to areas that are most prone to terrorist and drug gang activities.
“The Border Patrol’s strategic plan marks an important point in the growth and development of the U.S. Border Patrol and establishes an approach that is tailored to meet the challenges of securing a 21st century border against a variety of dynamic threats and dangerous adversaries,” Fisher said in written testimony.
Border Patrol is a component of Customs and Border Protection, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The new strategy aims to update one formulated in 2004.
Gambler told the panel that the agency “has not released performance goals and measures for assessing how effective it will be at implementing its new strategic plan – and that's something that the Border Patrol will be focusing on going forward, and has efforts underway right now to develop new or additional measures.”
“In the interim the Border Patrol is using the number of apprehensions on the southwest border as its primary performance measure, which is being reported out in the department’s annual performance report,” she continued.
“That kind of measure has some useful information in that it provides insights into the activity levels of the Border Patrol – how many apprehensions they’re making – but what’s really important, and really key going forward, is for the Border Patrol and the department to move more towards outcome-oriented measures that would allow the department, the Congress and the public to really get a sense to how effective the Border Patrol’s efforts are.”
Her comments came in response to a question by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, who asked whether it was possible to “quantify” or measure the agency’s new strategy.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) asked Fisher whether he could offer a time-frame for measuring results under the new strategy.
“Yes sir, we’re looking at the beginning of the next calendar year,” Fisher replied, “although I should also mention it’s not like we’re just erasing everything that we’ve done and trying to come up with new things.”
In her written testimony, Gambler noted that Border Patrol no longer uses the measure of miles under “operational control” to gauge its effectiveness in securing the border. As a result, she said, it has reduced the amount of information on program results available to Congress and taxpayers.
“Operational” (or “effective”) control refers to the parts of the border where the U.S. government has the ability to detect and interdict unauthorized activity.
Under the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), the DHS is required to report to Congress about its performance.
Fiscal year 2010 is the last year for which the DHS reported its progress and status in attaining operational control along the borders. To meet its GPRA requirement, the department is currently reporting the number of apprehensions along the U.S. borders.
“DHS transitioned at the end of fiscal year 2010 from using operational control as its goal and outcome measure for border security to using an interim measure of apprehensions on the southwest border,” wrote Gambler.
“DHS reported that this interim measure would be used until such time as DHS developed a new goal and measure for border security that will reflect a more quantitative methodology across border locations and the agency’s evolving view of border security.”
The interim measure, she argued, “limits oversight and accountability and has reduced information provided to Congress and the public on program results.”
As of the end of FY2010, Border Patrol reported having achieved operational control of only 1,107 (13 percent) of the 8,607 miles making up the northern, southwest, and coastal international boundaries.
Of those 1,107 miles, 873 were located on the approximately 2,000 mile-long southwest border, 69 along the estimated 4,000 mile-long northern border, and 165 along the coastal borders.