IG: 4 of 11 Forward Bases at Border ‘Not Operational’—Others Lack Proper Security Cameras, Gates, Safe Water

Michael W. Chapman | February 29, 2016 | 1:30pm EST
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(AP photo.) 

(CNSNews.com) – A new report from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (IG) shows that 4 of 11 Forward Operating Bases of the Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) along the southwest border are “not operational”; at several other bases the security cameras do not work, the security gates do not meet standards, and providing safe drinking water for the officers is a recurring problem.

The report, Conditions at CBP’s Forward Operating Bases Along the Southwest Border, also found other problems, including an access road that is “treacherous” and a “safety concern”; air-conditioning that does not work properly; expired fire extinguishers; irregular inspections; and in nearly all these instances, despite numerous work orders, repairs that have not been made over the course of many years.

The inspector general review states that the IG’s office visited the Forward Operating Bases in 2015, and its report was prepared for the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and released on Feb. 8, 2016.

A Forward Operating Base, or FOB, is a permanent station “established in forward or remote locations to sustain Border Patrol operations,” reads the report, primarily in areas where there is a high degree of illegal alien crossings and drug running. A FOB is indispensable to Border Patrol intelligence, deterrence, and rapid response.

There are 4 FOBs on the U.S.-Canadian border and 11 FOBs at the U.S. Mexico border. The IG’s office looked at the FOBs on the U.S.-Mexico border.

At the time of the IG's review,  3 of the 11 FOBs "on the southwest border were not operational." So the IG visited 7 FOBs in the El Paso, Rio Grande Valley, and Tucson Sectors. Six of the FOBs -- 3 in El Paso Sector, 3 in Tucson sector -- were operational; 1 FOB in the Rio Grande Valley was not operational.

For a FOB, several Border Patrol agents are assigned to work and live there, usually in 7-day stints, an 8-hour shift each day. The FOB is required to have bedrooms, showers and restrooms, a kitchen, a common area with TV, and a fitness room.

CBP officer.  (AP)

The IG report discovered “security issues” at all 6 FOBs, as well as inadequate documentation of maintenance and repairs at the stations.

At one FOB, the IG found the facility had “experienced recurring issues with the air conditioning,” in a region where the temperature sometime measured in the 100s. At least 10 work orders had been submitted between 2012 and 2014 to fix the A/C problems.

Another FOB did “not have a functioning closed circuit television (CCTV) security camera system,” even though it is mandated under CBP rules as defined in the Office of Internal Affairs (IA) handbook.

As the handbook states, “all facilities are to have a functioning CCTV system of cameras, recorders, switches, keyboards, and monitors that record security videos and allow agents on guard duty to monitor the grounds and perimeter of the facility,” reads the IG report.

“If agents cannot perform this task,” states the report, “the FOB is more vulnerable to a security breach.”

The Tucson Sector requested in January 13 that the security camera system be repaired.  Another work order was submitted 19 months later, in August 2014, because the cameras “were still inoperable,” said the IG. 

The repair was than marked closed in October 2014, but as the IG found, as of its April 2015 visit, “the security cameras had not been fixed.”

(AP photo.) 

For the six FOBs visited by the IG, “four had one or more” security cameras “that were inoperable.” All but two of the cameras at one FOB have been “inoperable since August 2014, when they were struck by lightning,” said the report.

At a FOB [name redacted], the security cameras stored recordings “on a network video recorder rather than digital video recorder,” which is not in compliance CBP standards.

The IG report noted, “Because of their proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border, it is essential that FOBs are equipped with proper, functioning surveillance equipment to maintain awareness and monitor the FOB grounds and perimeter.”

The CBP IA handbook requires the FOBs to have an 8-foot high, chain link perimeter fence and an electronic gate. For the FOBs at the southwest border, they have the fences. But only 4 bases have electronic gates, the other 2 are manual gates. During the IG’s visit, one of the manual gates was unlocked and open, as was one of the electronic gates.

At one of the FOB’s [name redacted] with a manual gate, 10 CBP employees told the IG that “the manual gate is repeatedly left open.”

“The practice of leaving the gate open increases the likelihood of someone gaining unauthorized access to the FOB,” said the IG. “In 2011, Tucson Sector requested funds from CBP to upgrade the manual gate. To date, the gate had not been upgraded to an electronic access gate.”

(AP photo.) 

In another FOB [name redacted], there were “expired fire extinguishers and an unclean facility.” Also, at a FOB [name redacted], the “well water is not safe” and the CBP “currently pays a contractor about $2,000 per week to deliver water via truck to the FOB.”

Funds were allocated to re-drill the well in FY2015, but to date the work has not started, reported the IG.

Contaminated water raises “health and safety issues,” said the IG, which added that the “discolored and odorous water might affect the morale of personnel assigned to FOBs.”

Although a water filtration system was installed at a FOB, “some agents said they do not  drink the water, cook with it, do laundry, or even bathe in it because of its taste and discoloration,” stated the report.

At another base, the access road is “unsafe and deteriorating,” said the IG. “Large portions of the road have washed away completely; other parts are impassable because of craters in the road.”

The DHS’s Office of Inspector General conducted its inspection of the FOBs in 2015. The IG also visited and conducted interviews at three Border Patrol sector headquarters and six Border Patrol stations.

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