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“Operational Control” Of The U.S. Border No Longer A Measure Of Border Control Efficiency

Border Control

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Obama administration has consistently touted its successes in lowering the number of illegal aliens crossing U.S. borders, but how those crossings are measured may be suspect. In testimony released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) it was revealed that the Department of Homeland Security no longer sees control of our physical borders as its measure for the effectiveness of Border Patrol enforcement.

The Border Patrol says it has “operational control” of a mile of border when it can not only detect illegal border crossers there, but also actually intercept them when they have crossed. “The extent of operational control—also referred to as effective control—was defined as the number of border miles where Border Patrol had the capability to detect, respond to, and interdict cross-border illegal activity,” testified Rebecca Gambler, the GAO’s director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues.

GAO officials report that the Border Patrol had been able to secure “operational control” of only 44 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border by 2010. A that time, DHS chose to stop using “operational control” as its standard of measurement for Border Patrol effectiveness.  Since 2010, the DHS has used the number of illegals apprehended by Border Patrol as its working measurement standard.

Beginning in 2004, Congress allocated the Border Patrol with a substantial increase in resources, which until 2010 were focused on securing the physical border of the United States. But the GAO says Homeland Security’s new measurement standards limit Congress’ ability to conduct oversight of the department.

“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,” Gambler told the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on the Border.

“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 said. “As GAO previously testified, this interim measure, which reports on program activity levels and not program results, limits DHS and congressional oversight and accountability.”

“For example, from fiscal years 2004 through 2011, the number of Border Patrol agents on the southwest border nearly doubled, from about 9,500 to about 18,500; and DHS reported that since fiscal year 2006, about $4.4 billion has been invested in southwest border technology and infrastructure,” Gambler testified. “Through fiscal year 2010, these resources were used to support DHS’s goal to achieve ‘operational control’ of the nation’s borders by reducing cross-border illegal activity.”

The GAO concluded that the interim measure of counting the illegal border crossers the Border Patrol actually apprehends is not a good measure of the agency’s effectiveness. “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.

The bottom line of the GAO report to Congress is that the Obama administration has abandoned “operational control,”  leaving it with no way to measure how well our tax dollars are being used to accomplish what they were allocated for.

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