Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan:

Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen Management and Assess Effectiveness

GAO-14-368: Published: Mar 3, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 2014.

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gamblerr@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) schedules and Life-cycle Cost Estimates for the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan (the Plan) reflect some, but not all, best practices. Scheduling best practices are summarized into four characteristics of reliable schedules—comprehensive, well constructed, credible, and controlled (i.e., schedules are periodically updated and progress is monitored). GAO assessed CBP's schedules as of March 2013 for the three highest-cost programs that represent 97 percent of the Plan's estimated cost. GAO found that schedules for two of the programs at least partially met each characteristic (i.e., satisfied about half of the criterion), and the schedule for the other program at least minimally met each characteristic (i.e., satisfied a small portion of the criterion), as shown in the table below. For example, the schedule for one of the Plan's programs partially met the characteristic of being credible in that CBP had performed a schedule risk analysis for the program, but the risk analysis was not based on any connection between risks and specific activities. For another program, the schedule minimally met the characteristic of being controlled in that it did not have valid baseline dates for activities or milestones by which CBP could track progress.

Summary of GAO's Schedule Assessments for the Three Highest-Cost Programs under the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan

Schedule characteristic

Program 1

Program 2

Program 3

Comprehensive

Partially met

Partially met

Partially met

Well constructed

Substantially met

Partially met

Partially met

Credible

Partially met

Partially met

Minimally met

Controlled

Partially met

Partially met

Minimally met

Source: GAO analysis of CBP data.

Note: Not met—CBP provided no evidence that satisfies any of the criterion. Minimally met—CBP provided evidence that satisfies a small portion of the criterion. Partially met—CBP provided evidence that satisfies about half of the criterion. Substantially met—CBP provided evidence that satisfies a large portion of the criterion. Met—CBP provided complete evidence that satisfies the entire criterion.

Further, CBP has not developed an Integrated Master Schedule for the Plan in accordance with best practices. Rather, CBP has used the separate schedules for each program to manage implementation of the Plan, as CBP officials stated that the Plan contains individual acquisition programs rather than integrated programs. However, collectively these programs are intended to provide CBP with a combination of surveillance capabilities to be used along the Arizona border with Mexico, and resources are shared among the programs. According to scheduling best practices, an Integrated Master Schedule is a critical management tool for complex systems that involve a number of different projects, such as the Plan, to allow managers to monitor all work activities, how long activities will take, and how the activities are related to one another. Developing and maintaining an Integrated Master Schedule for the Plan could help provide CBP a comprehensive view of the Plan and help CBP better understand how schedule changes in each individual program could affect implementation of the overall Plan.

Moreover, cost-estimating best practices are summarized into four characteristics—well documented, comprehensive, accurate, and credible. GAO's analysis of CBP's estimate for the Plan and estimates completed at the time of GAO's review for the two highest-cost programs showed that these estimates at least partially met three of these characteristics: well documented, comprehensive, and accurate. In terms of being credible, these estimates had not been verified with independent cost estimates in accordance with best practices. Ensuring that scheduling best practices are applied to the three programs' schedules and verifying Life-cycle Cost Estimates with independent estimates could help better ensure the reliability of the schedules and estimates.

CBP did not fully follow key aspects of DHS's acquisition management guidance for the Plan's three highest-cost programs. For example, CBP plans to conduct limited testing of the highest-cost program—the Integrated Fixed Tower (IFT: towers with cameras and radars)—to determine its mission contributions, but not its effectiveness and suitability for the various environmental conditions, such as weather, in which it will be deployed. This testing, as outlined in CBP's test plan, is not consistent with DHS's guidance, which states that testing should occur to determine effectiveness and suitability in the environmental conditions in which a system will be used. Revising the test plan to more fully test the program in the conditions in which it will be used could help provide CBP with more complete information on how the towers will operate once they are fully deployed.

CBP has identified mission benefits for technologies under the Plan, but has not yet developed performance metrics. CBP has identified such mission benefits as improved situational awareness and agent safety. Further, a DHS database enables CBP to collect data on asset assists, defined as instances in which a technology, such as a camera, or other asset, such as a canine team, contributed to an apprehension or seizure, that in combination with other relevant performance metrics or indicators, could be used to better determine the contributions of CBP's surveillance technologies and inform resource allocation decisions. However, CBP is not capturing complete data on asset assists, as Border Patrol agents are not required to record and track such data. For example, from fiscal year 2010 through June 2013, Border Patrol did not record whether an asset assist contributed to an apprehension event for 69 percent of such events in the Tucson sector. Requiring the reporting and tracking of asset assist data could help CBP determine the extent to which its surveillance technologies are contributing to CBP's border security efforts.

This is a public version of a For Official Use Only—Law Enforcement Sensitive report that GAO issued in February 2014. Information DHS deemed as For Official Use Only—Law Enforcement Sensitive has been redacted. 

Why GAO Did This Study

In recent years, nearly half of all annual apprehensions of illegal entrants along the southwest border have occurred along the Arizona border. Under the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBI net ), CBP deployed surveillance systems along 53 of the 387 miles of the Arizona border with Mexico. After DHS canceled further SBI net procurements, CBP developed the Plan, which includes a mix of radars, sensors, and cameras to help provide security for the remainder of Arizona's border. GAO was asked to review the status of DHS's efforts to implement the Plan. This report addresses the extent to which CBP (1) developed schedules and Life-cycle Cost Estimates for the Plan in accordance with best practices, (2) followed aspects of DHS's acquisition management guidance in managing the Plan's programs, and (3) identified mission benefits and developed performance metrics for surveillance technologies to be deployed under the Plan. GAO reviewed schedule, cost, and acquisition documents and analyzed fiscal year 2010 through June 2013 data on apprehensions and seizures.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that CBP, among other things, apply scheduling best practices, develop an integrated schedule, verify Life-cycle Cost Estimates, revise the IFT test plan, and require tracking of asset assist data. DHS concurred with four of six GAO recommendations. It did not concur with the need for an integrated schedule or a revised IFT test plan. As discussed in this report, GAO continues to believe in the need for a schedule and a revised test plan.

For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or gamblerr@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In March 2014, CBP concurred with our recommendation and in response, stated it planned to ensure that scheduling best practices are applied as far as practical when updating the three program schedules. In November 2014, CBP provided us a summary of its completed and planned milestones for the Integrated Fixed Tower (IFT), Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS), and Mobile Surveillance Capability (MSC) programs. CBP officials also stated that changes to work efforts require the updating of key program documents and CBP is working to update the schedules for the IFT, RVSS, and MSC programs. As of March 2015, CBP officials told us that they continue to work on updating the program schedules. However, until CBP provides us a complete program schedule for the IFT, RVSS, and MSC, we cannot determine the extent the agency has followed best practices when updating the respective schedules. Therefore,CBP will need to take the steps to update the programs' schedules and provide complete schedules to GAO to fully meet the intent of the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the acquisition management of the Plan and the reliability of its cost estimates and schedules, assess the effectiveness of deployed technologies, and better inform CBP's deployment decisions, when updating the schedules for the IFT, Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS), and Mobile Surveillance Capability programs, the Commissioner of CBP should ensure that scheduling best practices, as outlined in our schedule assessment guide, are applied to the three programs' schedules.

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

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: In March 2014, CBP did not concur with this recommendation and maintained that an integrated master schedule for the Plan in one file undermines the DHS-approved implementation strategy for the individual programs making up the Plan, and that the implementation of this recommendation would essentially create a large, aggregated program, and effectively create an aggregated "system of systems". DHS further stated that a key element of the Plan has been the disaggregation of technology procurements. As of May 2015, CBP continues to non-concur with this recommendation and plans no further action. However, as we noted in the report, collectively these programs are intended to provide CBP with a combination of surveillance capabilities to be used along the Arizona border with Mexico. Moreover, while the programs themselves may be independent of one another, the Plan's resources are being shared among the programs. As such, we continue to believe that developing an integrated master schedule for the Plan is needed. Developing and maintaining an integrated master schedule for the Plan could allow CBP insight into current or programmed allocation of resources for all programs as opposed to attempting to resolve any resource constraints for each program individually.

    Recommendation: To improve the acquisition management of the Plan and the reliability of its cost estimates and schedules, assess the effectiveness of deployed technologies, and better inform CBP's deployment decisions, the Commissioner of CBP should develop and maintain an Integrated Master Schedule for the Plan that is consistent with scheduling best practices.

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

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: In March 2014, DHS concurred with this recommendation. As of May 2015, CBP officials stated that by the end of calendar year 2015, the agency plans to update the life-cycle cost estimates for the three of its highest-cost programs under the Plan for the Integrated Fixed Tower (IFT), Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS), and Mobile Surveillance Capability (MSC) programs.

    Recommendation: To improve the acquisition management of the Plan and the reliability of its cost estimates and schedules, assess the effectiveness of deployed technologies, and better inform CBP's deployment decisions, when updating Life-cycle Cost Estimates for the IFT and RVSS programs, the Commissioner of CBP should verify the Life-cycle Cost Estimates with independent cost estimates and reconcile any differences.

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

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: In March 2014, DHS did not concur with this recommendation and stated that the Test and Evaluation Master Plan includes tailored testing and user assessments that will provide much, if not all, of the insight contemplated by the intent of the recommendation. As of May 2015, CBP continues to non-concur and plans no further action to address our recommendation. However, as we reported in March 2014, we continue to believe that revising the Test and Evaluation Master Plan to include more robust testing to determine operational effectiveness and suitability could better position CBP to evaluate IFT capabilities before moving to full production for the system, help provide CBP with information on the extent to which the towers satisfy Border Patrol's user requirements, and help reduce potential program risks.

    Recommendation: To improve the acquisition management of the Plan and the reliability of its cost estimates and schedules, assess the effectiveness of deployed technologies, and better inform CBP's deployment decisions, the Commissioner of CBP should revise the IFT Test and Evaluation Master Plan to more fully test the IFT program, before beginning full production, in the various environmental conditions in which IFTs will be used to determine operational effectiveness and suitability, in accordance with DHS acquisition guidance.

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

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On June 6, 2014, in response to GAO's recommendation, the Border Patrol issued guidance informing agents that the asset assist data field within the e3 Processing database is now a mandatory data field. In February 2015, Border Patrol officials confirmed that agents are required to enter any assisting surveillance technology of other equipment within the e3 Processing database before proceeding. These actions meet the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the acquisition management of the Plan and the reliability of its cost estimates and schedules, assess the effectiveness of deployed technologies, and better inform CBP's deployment decisions, the Commissioner of CBP should require data on asset assists to be recorded and tracked within the Enforcement Integrated Database, which contains data on apprehensions and seizures.

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

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: In February 2015, Border Patrol officials provided documentation stating that the agency has yet to analyze data on asset assists, in combination with other relevant performance metrics and indicators to determine the contributions of surveillance technologies to its mission. However, the Border Patrol plans to address this recommendation using the Capability Gap Analysis Process (CGAP) developed jointly by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab specifically and the Border Patrol. According to Border Patrol officials, the CGAP will enable the agency to examine the effects of technology and other Border Patrol assets such as agents, infrastructure, in the context of everyday border patrol operations. The data generated by the CGAP along with e3 apprehension and seizure data will better inform the nature of the contributions and impacts of surveillance technology on enforcement efforts. Border Patrol officials explained that capturing data on asset assists within the in e3 Processing database was the first step to determine the contribution of technology to detect, identify, and classify activity along the border. Further, the Border Patrol identified individual types of technology such as Integrated Fixed Towers, Mobile Video Surveillance System, Underground Sensors, etc. and grouped them into classes such as Fixed, Mobile and Relocatable to better distinguish the contribution of each class of technology. As the Border Patrol gains a better understanding through analysis, the agency plans to continue to refine the measures and the collection of the metrics. In November 2014, the Border Patrol proposed a timeline highlighting the agency's future efforts to capture and document the contributions of the different classes of technology to the Border Patrol's mission in an effort to encourage feedback from GAO. During Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, the Border Patrol plans to gather baseline data for the developed measures. By the end of FY 2015, the agency plans use this data to begin evaluating the individual and collective contributions of specific technology assets as they relate to key strategic outcomes outlined in our response to GAO 13-25, Border Patrol: Key Elements of New Strategic Plan Not Yet in Place to Inform Border Security Status and Resource Needs. By the end of FY 2016, the Border Patrol plans to have various qualitative and quantitative performance measures of technology to help profile different levels of situational awareness in different areas of the border. While we recognize the progress the Border Patrol has made toward the implementation of this recommendation, to close this recommendation, the agency needs to provide documentation showing that available data on apprehensions and seizures and technological assists, in combination with other relevant performance metrics, has been analyzed to determine the contribution of surveillance technologies to its border security efforts. The information provided to date suggests that the Border Patrol plans to use the CGAP to accomplish this task, but has yet to complete such analysis in a manner that allows the agency to determine contributions of its technological assets. Thus, to determine whether the CGAP effort meets the intent of our recommendation, we need to review documentation of the completed analysis.

    Recommendation: To improve the acquisition management of the Plan and the reliability of its cost estimates and schedules, assess the effectiveness of deployed technologies, and better inform CBP's deployment decisions, once data on asset assists are required to be recorded and tracked, the Commissioner of CBP should analyze available data on apprehensions and seizures and technological assists, in combination with other relevant performance metrics or indicators, as appropriate, to determine the contribution of surveillance technologies to CBP's border security efforts.

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

 

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