Past Features

December 1, 2017

Government Accountability report
on technology raises questions

Left: Glenn Spencer's comment in 2006.
Right: GAO report -- eleven years later.
Glenn Spencer -- December 1, 2017  
Who is watching the watchdog?
  This week the Government Accountability Office released its most recent report on border technology: SOUTHWEST BORDER SECURITY --- Border Patrol is Deploying Surveillance Technologies but Needs to Improve Data Quality and Assess Effectiveness.
    Page 8 of the report the includes the following:
"For example, the analysis of alternatives noted that IFTs are potentially effective if vegetation is sufficiently sparse and terrain is flat or rolling, such as in the Ajo station area of responsibility (see figure 2).
   GAO failed to point out that the first deployment of IFTs were at Nogales --- in terrain that is far from flat or rolling.
    And another deployment in and near the Coronado National Forest is in vegetation that is far from sparse.
    A special report by the DHS Office of Inspector General dated June 12, 2017, found deficiencies in the testing of the Integrated Fixed Towers.
    Yet, a search of the GOA report found no reference to this --- or any report by the OIG.
    Two years ago, the Senate Homeland Security Chairman, Ron Johnson, issued a special report that said :
"This report presents as recommendations the following reforms that the Chairman believes, with leadership and cooperation from both parties can be achieved this Congress:
A. Require adequate metrics to measure border security across all U.S. borders --- land, air, and sea, with appropriate oversight and transparency.”
    The GAO report dutifully says that the Border Patrol has not implemented its long-standing recommendation that metrics should be used to evaluate technology - but this is nothing new.
    GAO reports that it conducted site visits to Arizona in November 2016 and April 2017, including visiting five Border Patrol stations. My question is --- did they actually take the time to see where the Integrated Fixed Towers were installed? If so, how could they miss the glaring problems of steep terrain and dense forests where the IFTs were installed? If not, why not?
    I find it stunning that the Government Accountability Office could report that the IFTs "are potentially effective if vegetation is sufficiently sparse and terrain is flat or rolling..." and then fail to report from their own observations that these conditions were obviously not present where the IFT systems were actually installed.
    It is one thing to call for border metrics, and then fail to simply apply them with your own eyes when given the opportunity.
    Who is watching the watchdog?