U.S. Rep. Ron Barber today released a comprehensive study of Border Patrol strategies and resources which likely will drive changes in the areas where agents are assigned and the ways in which they operate.
"To ensure the border is secure, we must define our goals and deploy resources where they are needed most," Barber said today. "This study confirmed that the risk and need in the Tucson Sector of the Border Patrol is high and we need the best possible strategy moving forward."
Barber's office will brief residents of Southern Arizona on the report in meetings in Tucson and Douglas later this month.
Barber joined with U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi to ask the General Accountability Office to evaluate the security strategy and resource needs of the Border Patrol. Barber is a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security and Thompson is the committee's ranking member.
GAO analyzed data from the 2006 to 2011 fiscal years and Border Patrol's 2012-2016 strategic plan for border security. Evaluators visited each of the Border Patrol stations across the Southwestern border, interviewed Border Patrol personnel, toured the border line and observed resources and infrastructure.
GAO also interviewed ranchers in Barber's Southern Arizona district and across the Tucson sector of the Border Patrol.
In evaluating how the Border Patrol deploys its agents and other resources, the GAO determined that the Border Patrol lacks measures for assessing risk and need and does not have in place goals or a timeline to improve security along the Southwestern border. GAO recommended the agency resolve these issues.
The study also found that the number of apprehensions decreased across the Southwestern border by 6 percent from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2011. The Department of Homeland Security said that decrease was due to an increase in border security efforts.
The GAO said the decrease also is due to an increase in the number of Border Patrol agents and the addition of National Guard personnel in supporting roles.
Barber had a strong hand in urging the buildup in the number of agents and the assignment of National Guard troops to the border -- first as district director and lead on border issues for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and for the past seven months, as a member of Congress.
While apprehensions decreased, drug seizures have increased from 10,321 in fiscal 2006 to 18,898 in fiscal 2011.
The Tucson Sector, which encompasses all of the Arizona border with Mexico except for the Yuma area, includes 13 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border -- but accounts for about 38 percent of all drug seizures and 37 percent of all apprehensions across the entire Southwestern border.
DHS has agreed to GAO's recommendations to improve its 2012-2016 strategic plan for border security. The agency plans to develop metrics to move toward a risk-management approach instead of the current resources-based approach to target resources where they most are needed.
Barber said he will work with DHS to ensure the new strategy is put in place and reflects the needs and challenges of the Tucson Sector.
"It is unacceptable that my constituents still feel unsafe in their homes and in their communities on and near the border," Barber said. "I call upon the Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security to develop smarter strategies and tactics and a better way to measure border security.
"We must work together to shift resources to areas like the Tucson Sector which face continuing heavy illegal trafficking of people and drugs," Barber added.
Later this month, members of Barber's office will join Border Patrol officials in briefing Southern Arizonans on the findings in the GAO report. A Jan. 28 meeting will be held in Douglas and a meeting the following day will be in Tucson.
Highlights of the GAO report are available on Barber's website: http://barber.house.gov/gao-report