Border Patrol tries to standardize how agents collect and report information

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Border Patrol is working to make its nine southwest border regions collect and report information the same way so headquarters can compare their efforts better, the Government Accountability Office says.

Individual regions and stations track their own performance in order to best deploy personnel and assets, but Border Patrol faces problems comparing one region to another, the GAO says in a report (.pdf) released Jan. 9.

For example, to calculate "turn backs"--illegal entrants who crossed back into Mexico before they could be apprehended--Border Patrol agents rely on their perception to judge whether the person intended to stay in the United States and was deterred by Border Patrol activities. But the nine regions use different mixes of visual observation, cameras, witnesses and other evidence to inform their decisions.

The use of two kinds of evidence might also cause agents to overcount turn backs--say if a single person appears in surveillance footage and leaves footprints both in a manner that suggests a turn back, yet agents don't realize it's the same person.

Terrain can affect data collection too. In regions with rugged mountains and steep canyons, GAO says, agents might understate the number of turn backs because they're harder to detect.

Last September, Border Patrol headquarters issued guidance to standardize reporting. GAO says that, once implemented, regional data may be more comparable, but the report does not detail what changes Border Patrol has made, and it's up to the individual regions to monitor their own adherence to the guidance.

For more:
- download the report, GAO-13-25 (.pdf)

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