Investigative Group

Watchdog Says IT Management Ills Plague Customs And Border Protection

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Mark Tapscott Executive Editor, Chief of Investigative Group
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Headquarters officials backing up U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) field agents trying to keep illegal immigrants, deadly drugs and bad food products out of the country are creating huge opportunities for insider fraud and compromising access by outsiders, according to a report a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) watchdog released Thursday.

Nineteen of the problems identified by the DHS Inspector General (IG) in its latest report were repeats from prior years, and 20 were found for the first time. Many of the problems involve failures to do basic system maintenance and security activities, including:

  • Managers at CBP don’t consistently apply “strong password, inactivity, and account and data protection requirements” to internal systems “supporting financial applications.”
  • Managers failed to use a “documented account authorization process” and they weren’t “maintaining access authorization documentation” or “having separate individuals approve and grant access” to the agency’s internal systems.
  • Regular reviews of activity logs weren’t done and when they were, reviewers were often guilty of “not maintaining evidence of the review” or “having a process documented to review activities performed by temporary users.”
  • Recertification of “system user accounts (including the application, database, operating system, and network layers) was not designed and/or operating effectively.”
  • When CBP employees leave the agency, their access to its internal systems was “not timely removed upon their separation.”

As a result, the IG reported the agency’s “financial system controls lacked proper documentation, were not fully designed, were inadequately detailed, and were inconsistently implemented,” allowing “excessive, unauthorized, or inadequately monitored access to system components for key CBP financial applications.”

More than 62,000 people work for CBP, which spends nearly $14 billion annually to protect the nation’s borders from illegal immigrants, counter the activities of drug cartels, and monitor commercial and agricultural imports through U.S. ports of entry. The CBP is the largest law enforcement agency in DHS.

The problems the IG identified are found primarily at the top layers of CBP management, particularly in its central headquarters rather than the agency’s large force of agents in the field.

President Donald Trump has proposed significant budget and staff increases for the agency that has a lead role in the chief executive’s efforts to end illegal immigration, especially at the U.S. border with Mexico.

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