WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Wednesday asked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide details on steps it is taking to implement the recommendations that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) outlined in a report criticizing the nation’s traveler inspection system.
The GAO report, entitled “Despite Progress, Weaknesses in Traveler Inspections Exist at Out Nation’s Ports of Entry,” found that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials were inconsistent in their enforcement of border procedures. In some instances, border officers allowed drivers to cross the border without looking at their identification and they allowed pedestrians to pass freely into the country without looking at or speaking to them.
“This type of noncompliance with existing laws and inspections procedures is a likely contributing factor to CBP’s struggles to increase apprehension rates of serious law violators attempting to gain illegal entry through our nation’s airports or land ports of entry,” the Senators wrote to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff. “The findings in this report reflect poorly on the effectiveness of our current border security inspection procedures. We respectfully request that you outline how the Department will ensure proper implementation and compliance with both the reforms CBP had previously announced and with those suggested by the GAO.”
This report follows news of a Mexican national with a highly drug resistant form of tuberculosis who was repeatedly allowed to cross the southern border into the United States, even after officers had placed him on a border lookout list. Senators Lieberman and Collins have asked for further clarification of that incident.
A copy of the letter sent to DHS can be found below.
November 14, 2007
The Honorable Michael Chertoff
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Chertoff:
We are writing to express concern about the findings in a report released last week by the GAO that exposed serious weaknesses in traveler inspections at many of our nation’s ports of entry and to request that you outline what efforts are underway to implement the GAO’s recommendations.
The report, entitled “Despite Progress, Weaknesses in Traveler Inspections Exist at Out Nation’s Ports of Entry,” found that while U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has made progress in identifying and detaining individuals attempting to enter the country without proper documentation, vulnerabilities in its traveler inspection procedures have exposed the country to exploitation by those who intend to do us harm.
The 9/11 Commission reported that 15 of the 19 hijackers could have been detained by border authorities if their travel documents and patterns had been more closely scrutinized. According the Commission’s report, “had the immigration system set a higher bar for determining whether individuals are who or what they claim to be—and ensuring consequences for violations—it could potentially have excluded, removed, or come into further contact with several hijackers…” It is troubling to learn that despite significant efforts to improve our nation’s border screening system since the 9/11 attacks, the GAO investigation found that CBP officers often fail to establish either the nationality of travelers or their eligibility to enter the country.
The GAO investigators reviewed video surveillance of CBP officers allowing vehicles to enter the U.S. without stopping the driver to ask for identification. Additionally, the video captured footage of people on motorcycles passing through the port of entry without making any verbal contact with a CBP officer. Also troubling are reports of a CBP officer allowing pedestrians to enter the country without looking at them or speaking to them.
This type of noncompliance with existing laws and inspections procedures is a likely contributing factor to CBP’s struggles to increase apprehension rates of serious law violators attempting to gain illegal entry through our nation’s airports or land ports of entry. In addition, we question if it played a role in CBP’s recent failure to prevent a Mexican citizen with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) from repeatedly entering the United States even after CBP placed his name on a border lookout list. The findings in this report reflect poorly on the effectiveness of our current border security inspection procedures.
The report attributes many of the problems to lack of focus and complacency among the inspection officers, insufficient staffing levels, poor training, and lack of supervisory reviews. The GAO describes a series of actions CBP has taken to address the weaknesses in the inspection process such as issuing revised inspection procedures, increasing the presence of supervisors at primary inspections, developing a staff allocation model, and developing an extensive training program.
However, the report warns that even after these reforms were implemented at CBP field offices, GAO investigators continued to find weaknesses in inspections. The GAO therefore made additional recommendations such as developing internal controls to ensure compliance, developing stronger training oversight, and formalizing performance measures. We respectfully request that you outline how the Department will ensure proper implementation and compliance with both the reforms CBP had previously announced and with those suggested by the GAO. Please also describe what measures will be put in place to evaluate the success of these reforms.
Conducting thorough and secure inspections at our nation’s 326 ports of entry while also promoting safe and efficient travel and commerce is a difficult and complex task. Nevertheless, we must meet our obligation to the American people to prevent dangerous goods and people from entering the country.
We look forward to receiving a timely response and thank you in advance for your cooperation. If you have questions about this request, please contact Patricia Rojas on the majority Committee staff at (202) 224-2627 or Rob Strayer on the minority staff at (202) 224-4751.