GAO Assessment of the Department of Homeland Security’s Border Security Improvement Plan

The DHS Appropriations Act, 2018, as referenced by the 2019 and 2020 appropriations acts, required the Secretary of Homeland Security to submit to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and GAO a risk-based plan for improving security along the borders of the United States, including how DHS intends to use personnel, fencing, other forms of tactical infrastructure, and technology. DHS was required to include 11 elements in this plan—called the Border Security Improvement Plan. The 2018 appropriations act, as referenced in the 2019 and 2020 acts, included a provision for GAO to evaluate the plan.

This report addresses the extent to which the Fiscal Year 2019-2020 Border Security Improvement Plan includes the elements required by the appropriations act. GAO reviewed the Fiscal Year 2019-2020 Border Security Improvement Plan, as well as other DHS, CBP, and Border Patrol strategic planning documents and guidance. GAO also interviewed officials from CBP and Border Patrol to discuss the report’s required elements.

What The GAO Found

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Fiscal Year 2019-2020 Border Security Improvement Plan did not include all required elements, thus providing incomplete information to Congress, and was not delivered within the statutory time frame. DHS’s 2018 appropriations act set forth 11 required elements for the Border Security Improvement Plan, including a statement of goals and objectives related to DHS’s border security investments and efforts, a detailed implementation schedule, analyses of alternatives, and an identification of staffing requirements, among other things.

GAO found the information in the 2019-2020 plan to be incomplete when compared to the elements required by the DHS Appropriations Act, 2018, as referenced by the 2019 and 2020 appropriations acts. In particular, GAO identified 10 of the 11 elements for which the 2019-2020 plan provided incomplete information. DHS’s 2019-2020 plan includes a goal, objectives, and activities; identifies capabilities across four strategic initiatives; and describes mission benefits and outcomes for each initiative; among other things. However, the plan does not include many of the other required elements, such as a detailed implementation schedule linked to services, program management capabilities, or life cycle cost estimates; and an estimate of planned obligation of funds for fiscal years 2019-2027. The plan also does not identify staffing requirements for any of the initiatives identified in the plan.

DHS officials provided various reasons for the incomplete and late submission of information in the 2019-2020 plan. Officials told us that generating the information would involve lengthy or time consuming and that the information resided in other agency documents provided to Congress. For example, agency officials told us that costs presented or included in CBP’s annual budget justification are usually informed by life cycle cost estimates. Additionally, DHS’s 2018-2020 appropriations acts required the department to submit the Border Security Improvement Plan 180 days after enactment of each act. DHS has submitted three plans since 2018, but has not provided these plans within the required time frames. Officials cited the COVID-19 pandemic as one reason for the delay in providing the most recent plan to Congress.

While the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, does not include a requirement for DHS to submit another Border Security Improvement Plan for fiscal year 2021, Congress has noted the importance of having timely and comprehensive information such as that required in the plan to assist in its oversight and decision-making. For example, the House Report accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, noted concern about the absence of timely analysis on all of the required elements of the Border Security Improvement Plan to help make funding decisions and conduct oversight. Providing Congress the additional information related to the required elements that is not included in the 2019-2020 plan, and providing that additional information in an expeditious manner, would help strengthen Congress’s oversight of DHS’s border security plans, efforts, and use of funds.


The Secretary of Homeland Security should expeditiously provide Congress with the required information that was missing from the Fiscal Year 2019-2020 Border Security Improvement Plan.