Jim Kouri
Obama, Harper met Friday for border security discussion
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By Jim Kouri
February 6, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper met on Friday to discuss major changes to border security. The meeting will lead to the most sweeping reforms since the 1988 free trade agreement between the two nations.

The shared review of border security is expected to lead to joint government facilities, high-tech monitoring of travelers, improved cyber security protection and better oversight of cargo shipments between Washington and Ottawa.

In December 2010, Congress requested that the Government Accountability Office address the extent to which the DHS has improved coordination with state, local, tribal, and Canadian partners, has progressed in addressing past federal coordination challenges, and has progressed in securing the northern border and used coordination efforts to address existing vulnerabilities.

The challenges of securing the U.S.-Canadian border involve the coordination of multiple partners. The results of the Department of Homeland Security's efforts to integrate border security among its components and across federal, state, local, tribal, and Canadian partners are unclear.

The talks between Obama and Harper are expected to lead to new agreements to be implemented through amendments to existing regulations and the approval of legislation in Washington and Ottawa

The GAO reviewed interagency agreements, strategies, and operational documents that address DHS's reported northern border vulnerabilities such as terrorism. GAO visited four Border Patrol sectors, selected based on threat, and interviewed officials from federal, state, local, tribal, and Canadian agencies operating within these sectors. While these results cannot be generalized, they provided insights on border security coordination.

According to a majority of selected northern border security partners GAO interviewed, DHS improved northern border security coordination through interagency forums and joint operations. Specifically, interagency forums were beneficial in establishing a common understanding of security, while joint operations helped to achieve an integrated and effective law enforcement response.

However, numerous partners cited challenges related to the inability to resource the increasing number of interagency forums and raised concerns that some efforts may be overlapping. While guidance issued by GAO stresses the need for a process to ensure that resources are used effectively and efficiently, DHS does not oversee the interagency forums established by its components.

The U.S. Border Patrol — a component of DHS's U.S. Customs and Border Protection — reported that 32 of the nearly 4,000 northern border miles in fiscal year 2010 had reached an acceptable level of security and that there is a high reliance on law enforcement support from outside the border zone.

However, the extent of partner law enforcement resources available to address border security vulnerabilities is not reflected in Border Patrol's processes for assessing border security and resource requirements. GAO previously reported that federal agencies should identify resources among collaborating agencies to deliver results more efficiently and that DHS had not fully responded to a legislative requirement to link initiatives — including partnerships — to existing border vulnerabilities to inform federal resource allocation decisions.

Development of policy and guidance to integrate available partner resources in northern border security assessments and resource planning documents could provide the agency and Congress with more complete information necessary to make resource allocation decisions in mitigating existing border vulnerabilities.

The GAO recommended that DHS enhance oversight to ensure efficient use of interagency forums and compliance with interagency agreements; and develop guidance to integrate partner resources to mitigate northern border vulnerabilities.

© Jim Kouri

 

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Jim Kouri

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police... (more)

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