Past Features

July 19, 2017

How did the Integrated
Fixed Towers Happen?

Spotlight on Rebecca Gambler and the GAO

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Glenn Spencer -- July 19, 2017
Rebecca Gambler and Me
    I first met Rebecca Gambler on January 28, 2013, at a town hall meeting in Douglas Arizona.
    She was there to present a GAO report released on January 9, 2013.
    That report was prepared by GAO because of remarks I had made at an earlier town hall meeting, during which I told Bennie Thompson, then Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, that we needed better border accounting.
     I spoke to Ms. Gambler at the January 28 meeting and handed her a copy of my report: “How to Solve the Border Problem” which explains why we need a border metric. I also gave her documentation on the IDENTISEIS system --- technology that can count all border crossers.
    (Note: On Feb. 16, 2017, Gambler released a GAO report that complained "... CBP has not developed metrics that systematically use these, among other data it collects, to assess the contributions of border fencing to its mission."
    I had shown her why metrics were needed and how it could be done --- four years ago.)
    In her 2013 report (GAO-13-25) Gambler said that the Border Patrol had an apprehension rate of 73%, when the actual number is most likely less than 50%.
    Checking her calculations, I learned that Gambler did not include illegal entries that the Border Patrol didn't see. This is difficult to believe, but true.
Note: The record shows that at the time of the 2013 meeting, Cathleen Berrick was the Managing Director of GAO's Homeland Security and Justice Team. At the time Ms Berrick expressed the belief that CBP should define operational control of the border. This is outrageous and says a lot about where GAO was coming from.)
    On May 24, 2016, Rebecca Gambler testified before a House subcommittee that was looking into the effectiveness of border technology.
    Given the opportunity to report that her office had found in 2014 that the IFT systems were never tested for operational effectiveness in their intended environment, she remained silent.
    Ms. Gambler reported to the subcommittee: "Further, CBP reported it had initiated deployment of the IFT systems and as of May 2016 has deployed 7 out of 53 IFTs in one area of responsibility.”
    Each Integrated Fixed Tower costs about $19 million, for a total of $980 million for all 52 --- yet Ms. Gambler failed to inform the House of Representatives that her office was aware that there was no plan to test to see if that $1 billion was a sound investment for U.S. taxpayers. Since her testimony, DHS/CBP bought the eight towers for the Coronado Forest area at a cost of $148 million.
    For years, I applauded the GAO as its head of the border issue, Richard Stana, demanded real accountability. I fondly referred to him as the Denominator Man.
    With his retirement, things changed dramatically at GAO.
    There has been a real diminution in true border accountability at GAO.
The Trump Administration should find out how this happened --- and get it corrected.