Border Patrol and ICE data systems not working together, IG says

At the southern border, U.S. Border Patrol agents use a data system owned by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. But ICE investigators at the border use a data system owned by Customs and Border Protection.

Those stovepiped systems are hampering information-sharing and coordination between the two component agencies, according to a new report from Acting Inspector General Charles Edwards.

In the March 8 report, Edwards provides an in-depth look at some of the factors hampering information sharing at the department, including data system constraints and a lack of resources and coordination.

One example is the relationship between the U.S. Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit, Edwards wrote in the report.

Both units work closely at the southern and northern land borders.

However, their data systems are separate and were not designed for information sharing, Edwards wrote.

The Border Patrol uses the e3 biometric system to track apprehensions, detentions, hearings and removal of illegal aliens. ICE’s unit uses a separate non-biometric system called TECS owned by Customs and Border Protection.

“The current structure and planned upgrades to the data systems are not designed for information sharing on investigations and operations that may overlap,” Edwards wrote. “Both ICE HSI and the U.S. Border Patrol expressed concern that TECS modernization led by the CBP Office of Information Technology did not solicit adequate comments on their information sharing needs.”

The border patrol and ICE also face other longstanding coordination issues despite a Memorandum of Understanding in place, the report added. An ICE-CBP Coordination Council that met for several years starting in 2005 was unable to resolve those issues, Edwards said.

The Office of Inspector General’s report, building upon previous guidance from the Government Accountability Office in 2010, recommended that DHS establish oversight guidance to help the border patrol, ICE Homeland Security Investigations unit and Customs and Border Protection work together.

“We believe that GAO’s recommendation, if implemented as envisaged, would address many of the tensions between the U.S. Border Patrol and ICE HSI. We consider that duplication of effort, poorly aligned priorities, inadequate methods to share and safeguard information, and potential threats to officer safety will continue until DHS-level oversight of the Memorandum of Understanding is addressed,” Edwards wrote.

DHS officials agreed with the report, but added that it already exercises oversight through several forums, including the Information Sharing Governance Board and the Interagency Northern Border Counter Narcotics Strategy.

Nonetheless, the border patrol and ICE’s investigative unit will take corrective actions, including collaborating on threat assessments, joint operational planning and formalization of a joint information and data-sharing protocol, DHS managers said in a response.

Edwards made seven other recommendations in the report, and the department agreed with four of them.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Government Cyber Insider tracks the technologies, policies, threats and emerging solutions that shape the cybersecurity landscape.


Reader comments

Tue, Mar 13, 2012 John New York

Another problem that the article didn't address is that even though ICE and CBP effect administrative arrests of illegal aliens, placing them in removal proceedings, since the dismemberment of the INS, they now use different systems to do exactly the same types of processing. Contrary to a ranking CBP manager’s recent statement that they are now "stronger as a whole" than they were as separate organizations, Immigration law enforcement is completely disorganized and uncoordinated as a result of the disembowelment of the INS. And let's not forget CIS; ICE and CBP can't process aliens without information and registration numbers owned by CIS, but they are another bureaucracy with separate systems and policy. "However, their data systems are separate and were not designed for information sharing, Edwards wrote." This statement from the article seems to have been made in complete ignorance of history; Immigration data systems didn't have to be designed for information sharing because everyone using them is an Immigration Officer, and were originally meant to work under the INS umbrella. The data was already available to anyone who could use it. All they had to do was enhance the INS's Intelligence arm and this would all have been moot.

Fri, Mar 9, 2012

The systems (hardware and software) don't really know if a particular user is with ICE or CBP. So the statement about not sharing information is ambiguous and confusing. If both ICE and CBP users are using the same system, it is logically to believe the information is shared to certain extent. The key here is the "modernization" intent. It is again logical to believe a centralized system fosters the efficient use of information including making the data easier to be shared or analyzed to benefit all users. If the "modernization" intent is to change from a centralized model to a distributed model, then the project is clearly misguided. In almost all cases, government officials are too wrapped up on the idea of "modernization". They are made to believe to modernize is to change the system from the ground up because the vendors say so (because it costs more). What they don't see is that the existing systems are very capable of having new and modern capabilities added to it very quickly at a lower cost. In the government executive's eyes, adding modernized capabilities to existing systems is not modernization. This is the problem most of the time.

Fri, Mar 9, 2012 Jonathon Pine

This article has many problems with it. First and foremost, e3 Biometrics is a Customs and Border Protection (CBP), US Border Patrol (USBP) owned application. The data does reside on ICE servers but the application as referenced is CBP/USBP owned and maintained. Second, the application is used soley for biometrics. e3 Processing, e3 Prosecutions are used in conjuction with e3 Biometrics to round out the applications used to successfully process a subject.

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