Border Security:

Additional Steps Needed to Ensure That Officers Are Fully Trained

GAO-12-269: Published: Dec 22, 2011. Publicly Released: Dec 22, 2011.

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What GAO Found

CBP revised its training program for newly hired CBP officers in accordance with its own training development standards. Consistent with these standards, CBP convened a team of subject-matter experts to identify and rank the tasks that new CBP officers are expected to perform. As a result, the new curriculum was designed to produce a professional law enforcement officer capable of protecting the homeland from terrorist, criminal, biological and agricultural threats. In addition, the curriculum stated that the CBP officer is to draw conclusions and take appropriate action to identify behavioral indicators displayed by criminals, effectively interview travelers to identify potential threats, identify fraudulent documents, and use technology in support of the inspection process.

CBP has taken some steps to identify and address the training needs of its incumbent CBP officers, but could do more to ensure that these officers are fully trained. GAO examined CBP’s results of covert tests conducted over more than 2 years and found significant weaknesses in the CBP inspection process at the ports of entry that were tested. In response to these tests, CBP developed a “Back to Basics” course in March 2010 for incumbent officers but has no plans to evaluate the effectiveness of the training. Moreover, CBP has not conducted an analysis of all the possible causes or systemic issues that may be contributing to the test results. Further evaluation of the training and causes underlying covert test results could help inform CBP about whether the training is sufficient to address the weaknesses identified by the covert tests or if adjustments are needed. In addition, CBP offices are responsible for recording their employees’ training records; however, CBP does not have a policy that assigns responsibility to port management to ensure that their staff enter data into its training records system completely and accurately. A policy outlining the roles and responsibilities of offices and positions for training could help clarify which offices and positions are responsible for identifying and addressing training needs and for holding these offices accountable for their responsibilities. Moreover, CBP currently does not have reliable training completion records to ensure CBP officers received required training or other training relevant to their assigned duties. Based on GAO’s analysis of training records, more than 4,000 customs officers have not completed the immigration fundamentals, immigration law, and agricultural fundamentals courses, although they were required to complete them during a cross-training program. According to CBP, the training completion records are incomplete, and it is unlikely that the officers did not complete the required cross-training. Nevertheless, without reliable training records; CBP cannot provide reasonable assurance that all customs officers completed the required cross-training. Further, CBP has not conducted a needs assessment that would identify any gaps between identified critical skills and incumbent officers’ current skills and competencies. A needs assessment could enhance CBP’s ability to ensure its workforce is training to meet its mission.

Why GAO Did This Study

Recent incidents involving potential terrorists attempting to enter the country highlight the need for a vigilant and well-trained workforce at the border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), within the Department of Homeland Security, is the lead federal agency in charge of inspecting travelers and goods for admission into the United States. About 20,000 CBP officers play a central role in ensuring that CBP accomplishes its mission of securing the border while also facilitating the movement of millions of legitimate travelers and billions of dollars in international trade. GAO was asked to assess the extent to which CBP has (1) revised its training program for newly hired CBP officers in accordance with training standards and (2) identified and addressed the training needs of incumbent CBP officers. GAO analyzed data and documentation related to the agency’s training efforts, such as its covert test program and its training records. GAO also interviewed CBP officials and CBP officers. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in October 2011. Information CBP deemed sensitive has been redacted.

What GAO Recommends

To improve CBP training efforts, GAO recommends that the CBP Commissioner evaluate the “Back to Basics” training course; analyze covert test results; establish a policy for training responsibilities, including oversight of training records; and, conduct a training needs assessment. CBP concurred with the recommendations and is taking steps to address them.

For more information, contact Richard M. Stana at (202) 512-8816 or StanaR@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2011, we found that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) delivered two required training courses for incumbent CBP officers in response to its covert test results. However, it had not evaluated the effectiveness of these courses by checking the extent to which the officers had retained the information over time. We previously reported that agencies should assess the extent to which training and development efforts contribute to improved performance and results to help ensure that the agency is not devoting resources to training that may be ineffective. CBP conducted evaluations of the effectiveness of the Back to Basics training course and follow-on course and provided reports on the results of these evaluations to GAO in April 2012 and December 2013, respectively. These evaluations addressed our recommendation and could help CBP to know the extent to which such training is a sufficient response to the covert test results or whether adjustments to the training or other management actions are needed.

    Recommendation: To improve CBP training efforts, the CBP Commissioner should conduct an evaluation of the effectiveness of the 'Back to Basics" and subsequent follow-on training.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Customs and Border Protection

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2011, we reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Office of Internal Affairs (IA) uses covert tests to help identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses at U.S. ports of entry by having undercover inspectors attempt to enter the United States with genuine documents used fraudulently. The tests are designed to provide a snapshot of the level of a port's performance related to the testing objectives on a particular day. We examined the results of covert tests that CBP conducted over more than 2 years and found significant weaknesses in the CBP inspection process at the ports of entry that were tested. We also found that CBP has not conducted an analysis of all the possible causes or systemic issues that may be contributing to the test results. The protocols for covert tests state that IA will provide a comprehensive report at the conclusion of all covert tests that will summarize test results and identify systemic issues. GAO recommended that CBP conduct a comprehensive assessment of its covert test results to identify the causes of and systemic issues underlying the results. In response, CBP IA provided GAO a copy of a July 2012 report documenting CBP's comprehensive analysis of the results of its document fraud covert tests in fiscal years 2009 to 2011. In the report, CBP IA identified factors that contributed to non-interdictions of covert tests and made recommendations to the CBP Office of Field Operations headquarters to help address these factors. In addition, GAO met with the CBP IA official responsible for publishing this report to discuss IA's analysis and report. Based on our review, we found that the document provides a comprehensive assessment of covert test results and identifies causes underlying the test results; therefore, this report addresses the intent of our recommendation

    Recommendation: To improve CBP training efforts, the CBP Commissioner should conduct a comprehensive assessment of its covert test results to identify the causes of and systemic issues underlying the results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Customs and Border Protection

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2011, we reported U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) offices are responsible for recording their employees' training records; however, CBP did not have a policy that assigned responsibility to port management to ensure that their staff enter data into its training records system completely and accurately. A policy outlining the roles and responsibilities of offices and positions for training could help clarify which offices and positions are responsible for identifying and addressing training needs and for holding these offices accountable for their responsibilities. Moreover, we reported CBP did not have reliable training completion records to ensure CBP officers received required training or other training relevant to their assigned duties. Having policies and procedures to ensure that managers are fulfilling their oversight responsibilities, including maintaining accurate and complete training records, could help improve CBP's knowledge of whether incumbent CBP officers have been properly trained. We recommended that CBP establish a policy that specifies roles and responsibilities for CBP officer training implementation and related oversight, including oversight responsibilities to ensure that training records are entered in the Training Records and Enrollment Network (TRAEN) completely and accurately. In response to our recommendation, in January 2012, CBP provided to GAO a National Policy and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) document and enclosing memorandum, dated November 7, 2011, that established a national policy and assigns roles and responsibilities for CBP's Office of Field Operations training program. In addition, the policy and SOP assigns responsibility for and oversight over the accurate and timely entry of training records. The policy and SOP address the intent of our recommendation and should help address issues about the reliability of CBP's training records.

    Recommendation: To improve CBP training efforts, the CBP Commissioner should establish a policy that specifies roles and responsibilities for CBP officer training implementation and related oversight, including oversight responsibilities to ensure that training records are entered in CBP's Training Records and Enrollment Network (TRAEN) completely and accurately.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Customs and Border Protection

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CBP's Office of Training and Development (OTD) conducted a three-phase analysis of incumbent officer training needs consisting of a (1) training gap analysis, (2) skills gap analysis, and (3) training needs assessment. OTD completed a report that includes the outcomes of this analysis and recommended action steps for addressing training gaps for incumbent officers and submitted this report to headquarters officials within the Office of Field Operations for consideration. OTD's report addressed our recommendation and should better position CBP to develop training to address the skill gaps and training needs for incumbent officers and help ensure its officers are equipped to meet the operational demands at the border.

    Recommendation: To improve CBP training efforts, the CBP Commissioner should develop a plan for conducting a training needs assessment to address any skill gaps for incumbent CBP officers and then implement that plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Customs and Border Protection

 

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