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

Stovepiped data systems are contributing to tensions in the operational relationship between the Border Patrol and ICE's Homeland Security Investigations unit.

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.