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Follow-Up Audit of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's Airport Inspection Facilities
Report No. 03-10
Office of the Inspector General
THE INS HAS MADE LITTLE PROGRESS IN IMPROVING INSPECTION FACILITIES
Although construction and renovation projects have improved some facilities, we found repeat and new deficiencies at all 12 airports reviewed. Further, at [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED] airports we found [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED]. We found that testing of security systems and equipment was inadequate. INS staff at some airports said they did not conduct monitoring and surveillance activities because they were understaffed. Consequently, airports were still vulnerable to illegal entry, escapes, injuries, and hiding or disposing of contraband or documents. In our judgment, these conditions existed because INS headquarters did not notify airlines, airport authorities, or INS airport staff of the deficiencies noted in the prior audit. INS officials believed that the power of the airline lobby kept the INS from using its authority to enforce available sanctions, that security was not the INS's responsibility, and that the failure of facilities to meet standards was unrelated to serious consequences. INS staff did not believe that escapes, assaults, or injuries resulted from inadequacies in facilities.
Title 8 Part 234, Section 4 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) states in part,
"International airports for the entry of aliens shall be those airports designated as such by the Commissioner…An airport shall not be so designated…unless adequate facilities have been or will be provided at such airport without cost to the Federal government for the proper inspection and disposition of aliens, including office space and such temporary detention quarters as may be found necessary. The designation of an airport as an international airport for the entry of aliens may be withdrawn whenever, in the judgment of the Commissioner, there appears just cause for such action."
Our prior audit found that inspection areas were designed and constructed improperly and lacked important surveillance and communication equipment. The INS had not pursued a program to require upgrading of older facilities. In addition, the INS did not enforce provisions of the Act against airlines when facilities were not acceptable. The INS did not develop performance indicators, under the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), to fully address the adequacy of facilities.
Actions Taken on Prior Audit Recommendations
Our prior audit recommended that the INS: (1) ensure airport authorities and airlines understand design and construction standards, and what improvements were needed, (2) develop a comprehensive program to review and upgrade existing4 facilities, (3) apply sanctions to airlines failing to provide suitable facilities, and (4) develop performance indicators related to improvement of airport inspection facilities. In this follow-up audit, we determined whether the INS took action to implement the specific recommendations we made and whether those actions resulted in improved airport inspection facilities.
Recommendation No. 1 - "Communicate clearly with airport authorities and airlines on all matters relating to airport facilities to ensure they understand: (a) design and construction standards, (b) what improvements are needed, and (c) the need for the INS to be apprised of any proposed construction or renovation."
Officials at INS headquarters indicated they had not communicated deficiencies from the prior audit to airlines or airport authorities. INS headquarters also did not advise INS airport staff of the prior audit results. One headquarters official said the deficiencies identified in the prior audit still existed because the INS wanted to develop its own checklist to review facilities. Yet, our prior audit had already identified serious deficiencies at 42 airports. The INS could have used the results of our prior audit to communicate needed improvements to airlines and airport officials. Instead, the INS chose to duplicate our prior work and conduct another review of facilities. Some INS airport staff told us they could have taken actions to correct some deficiencies had they been apprised of the prior audit results.
The INS did, however, publish and provide a comprehensive set of design and construction requirements and furnished them to airlines and airport authorities. In February 2002, the INS published INS Air Ports-of-Entry Technical Requirements (ATR)5 with technical assistance from various INS offices. Requirements include those found in earlier publications as well as newly promulgated requirements for the secondary inspection area, interview rooms, search rooms, Joint Agency Coordination Center (JACC)/INS Coordination Center (ICC), and in-transit lounges (ITL). The INS sent copies of the ATR to the Air Transportation Association, American Association of Airport Executives, and Airports Council International on February 15, 2002.
Recommendation No. 2 - "Work with other Federal inspection agencies to implement a program for upgrading existing facilities, including: (a) comprehensive reviews of facilities at all international airports of entry, (b) complete documentation of review results, (c) recommendations to airlines and airport authorities for necessary modifications, and (d) plans to monitor actions taken."
INS staff conducted reviews of facilities undergoing construction or renovation, and security reviews of two other airports but had done little to develop a program to upgrade existing facilities.
The INS has a program to review airport facilities undergoing construction and renovation. During each phase of the construction project, staff conduct walk-through inspections to identify deficiencies in design and construction requirements. We obtained copies of inspection reports for construction projects at [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED] The most recent inspection reports show some deficiencies identified during the walk-through inspections had not been corrected. At [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED]
The INS also conducted security reviews at two airports to ensure facilities met the INS's Airport Border Integrity Anti-terrorism Program (ABIAP6) requirements. Such reviews are designed to identify security vulnerabilities and conditions conducive to the smuggling of aliens, criminals, terrorists, drugs, or other contraband into the U.S. The INS Office of Security staff last conducted security reviews in May 2001 at the [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED] airports and found serious weaknesses in security at both locations. Both reviews outlined recommendations airlines and airports should take to correct the deficiencies. However, the INS Office of Security, Border Integrity Project Manager, said the INS had not communicated the needed security related improvements to airlines and airport authorities. The official said the primary purpose of the assessments was to finalize a database of the findings of similar reviews.
Thus, although the INS conducts reviews of individual facilities under construction and limited security reviews of other facilities, it had done little to develop a comprehensive program to review existing facilities. One official said the INS was in the process of developing a comprehensive facilities review form. The INS official said the detailed review form would take additional time to develop. The INS said its review results would be sent to the airports in June or July 2002. However, as of May 20, 2002, the INS had not yet begun and INS staff could provide only a general outline of what the review would entail.
Recommendation No. 3 - "Apply sanctions permitted by the Act, as appropriate, to airports and airlines failing to provide suitable facilities. The scope of sanctions applied should conform to the magnitude of the deficiency. This could range from a lesser sanction, such as prohibiting an airline from using a particular gate, to prohibiting the airline from deplaning passengers anywhere at the airport. The latter action would require coordination and consultation with other federal agencies such as the State Department and the Department of Transportation."
The Act permits the INS to withdraw an airport's designation as a landing station when airlines fail to provide suitable facilities. However, the INS had not exercised its authority even when the INS found that conditions warranted it. For example, two days before a newly built terminal at the [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED] airport was scheduled to open, the INS told [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED] it would not permit the facility to open because it did not meet the INS's requirements, such as, [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED]. However, the INS occupied the facility by the opening date even though the facility did not meet with the INS's requirements.
Recommendation No. 4 - "Develop performance indicators related to the improvement of airport inspection area facilities."
The INS had not developed performance indicators related to its efforts to improve airport inspection facilities. In a May 7, 2002, written response to our prior audit, INS officials said they had reviewed this recommendation in light of the requirements of GPRA and the Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA) and concluded neither were applicable because the INS does not have financial investment in airport facilities. The response stated the INS would conduct periodic reviews of airport facilities to determine whether deficiencies had been corrected. In our judgment, the INS is responsible for the condition of facilities to the extent that it can require airlines and airport authorities to make needed improvements. Our prior audit recommendation was broad enough to permit the INS to measure its "efforts" to improve facilities. For example, such measures could include the number of improvements recommended and implemented by airport authorities. At the exit conference, however, an INS headquarters official commented that performance measures are not applicable because the INS has no financial interest in inspection facilities.
Conditions Noted During the Current Audit
Deficiencies identified during the prior audit had still not been corrected. The table on the following page shows some of the repeat deficiencies we found. A complete list of repeat deficiencies by location is contained in Appendix III.
We also found evidence that detainees had escaped or injured themselves because prior deficiencies had not been corrected:
We found additional deficiencies not previously identified. In February 2002, the INS provided airport authorities with a comprehensive set of design requirements covering areas of the facility not addressed in other publications. The table on the following page shows examples of deficiencies in the INS's latest design and construction standards. A complete list of new deficiencies by location is contained in Appendix III.
These newly identified deficiencies occurred because the INS had not implemented a program to review facilities and communicate needed improvements to airlines and airports. For example, at two airports the secondary inspection area was located in an open area without walls. At [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED], this resulted in an alien absconding from the secondary inspection area before completing his inspection. A secondary inspection area at [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED] is of similar design.
Security systems and equipment were ineffective. In view of increased emphasis on airport security, we conducted random tests of doors and alarms within the FIS area to determine whether: (1) doors were locked, (2) emergency exits sounded an alarm when opened, (3) alarm events were reported at a central location, and (4) security staff responded timely to alarm events. We also interviewed INS inspectors and conducted tests in some INS command centers to determine whether cameras were operable.
Our audit found that [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED] airports either did not test security and communications systems or testing was not adequate. At [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED] airports officials said they did not do regular testing [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED] or there were no testing procedures [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED]. At [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED] other airports where the INS or the security contractor said they conducted testing [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED].
We noted inspectors have frequent periods of inactivity when such testing could be conducted. [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED] and [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED] at [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED].
At [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED], security contractors are responsible for responding to alarms at each terminal. We tested response time at one terminal by activating an alarm. Security failed to respond, and after 20 minutes airline staff turned the alarm off. [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED]. An airport official said a $600,000 project to upgrade 60 cameras in the FIS area was abandoned because the airport authority could not get the INS or Customs to approve the project.
We found other examples of deficiencies in the design and construction of the facilities, and inoperable security and communications equipment:
As noted above, the principal reasons for the deficiencies noted were that the INS did not implement our prior recommendations or even notify notify its airport staff of our prior audit findings. In addition, we found other underlying causes for why the INS did not implement our recommendations.
INS officials at headquarters and at airports believed that the risk of serious consequences is low for facilities that do not meet the INS's standards. INS staff did not believe that escapes, assaults, or injuries resulted from inadequacies in facilities. For example, a headquarters official asked repeatedly whether we had found evidence to show that such events were related to poor facilities. INS officials at airports also said they were not aware of any instances of escapes, assaults, or injuries that were caused by inadequate facilities. However, this audit and the prior audit noted seven instances of escapes, abscondings, injuries, and death resulting from such inadequacies.
INS headquarters staff perceived that the power of the airline lobby keeps the INS from using its authority to enforce available sanctions. The Assistant Chief Inspector, Office of Inspections, said the INS was reluctant to use its authority. The official cited the political and economic ramifications of closing down airports or gates because airlines or airport officials were unwilling to address deficiencies. The official said corrective actions in response to our prior audit recommendations are at a standstill because the airlines' powerful lobby and recent financial situation has made it difficult to force them to comply. INS officials at some airports concurred with those comments.
INS headquarters and airport staff felt that security was not the INS's responsibility. An INS official at one airport said INS headquarters should have provided the airport with staff who were trained in security related matters. Other INS airport officials said the airport authority or the airport security contractor was responsible for security. Further, we found responsibilities for monitoring and responding to alarms are not clearly defined. A headquarters official said responsibility is different at each airport. Usually there is only a verbal agreement between the INS and Customs as to who is to respond to alarms. As noted earlier, however, the ATR states that the INS has the responsibility to ensure there are adequate countermeasures within the physical security system of the FIS area to maintain border integrity.
Attrition rates for INS inspectors were high. At one airport, an INS official said some security systems were turned off because the INS did not have adequate staff to monitor and respond to alarms. INS officials said the INS lost about 17 percent of its inspectors during fiscal year 2002. Officials cited very high losses at some airports. For example, [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED] airport lost 41 percent and [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED] airport lost 21 percent of its inspectors.
We found that the INS had not implemented our prior audit recommendations to: (1) communicate needed improvements to airlines and airport authorities, (2) develop a program to review existing facilities, (3) apply sanctions made available by the Act when airlines fail to provide suitable landing facilities, and (4) develop performance measures required by GPRA to assess the INS's efforts to obtain suitable facilities. Consequently, airports were still vulnerable to illegal entry, escapes, injuries, and hiding or disposing of contraband or documents. In our judgment, the condition of security systems and equipment has resulted in increased risk that aliens can avoid the inspection process. There have been escapes, injuries, and further weakening of the INS's ability to perform its mission.
At the exit conference, INS staff indicated they felt that issuing the ATR sufficiently addressed the need to communicate needed improvements. They also felt they were making progress with their program to review existing facilities, and said they had some success in enforcing compliance with facilities standards.
In our view, the beliefs among INS staff hindered their ability to implement these recommendations. Officials should establish a comprehensive plan to review existing facilities and performance measures to judge the progress of upgrading airport facilities. Once the INS does this, it will be able to evaluate its efforts to obtain suitable facilities. When efforts fail, INS officials should hold airlines accountable by exercising its authority to impose sanctions. Unless these measures are taken, we believe that INS airport facilities remain vulnerable to illegal entry, escapes, and smuggling of aliens and contraband into the Unites States, which compromises the security of our borders.
We recommend the Commissioner, INS: