Thursday, June 19, 2014

Watchdog says NEXUS enrollment processes need improvement

NEXUS expansion has been a major Beyond the Border  accomplishment.  However good NEXUS may be at present, a new government report says it can be improved.

In May, the U. S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report entitled Trusted Travelers:  Programs Provide Benefits, but Enrollment Processes Could Be Strengthened. 

Often called the "congressional watchdog," the GAO is an independent, nonpartisan agency employed by Congress to investigate how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars.  In this capacity, the GAO reviewed CBP’s trusted traveler programs (SENTRI, NEXUS, FAST, and Global Entry) to determine the extent to which the programs have improved the facilitation of legitimate travel and trade, including the efficiency of the application processes and the potential impacts on security.  In particular, the report evaluated trends in enrollment and use of the programs over the past 5 years; the consistency and efficiently of applicant enrollment; and impacts of the trusted traveler programs for travelers and CBP.  The report contains several observations and recommendations regarding NEXUS that are summarized below.

In general, the GAO’s research revealed that trusted traveler entries into the United States increased, but varied by program.  SENTRI experienced the greatest increase in the total number of vehicles entering the United States, but NEXUS had the greatest growth in terms of percentage.  Likewise, enrollment in trusted traveler programs grew – more than quadrupling in the past 5 fiscal years.  Approximately 2.5 million people were enrolled as of January 2014, the majority of them in the Global Entry or NEXUS programs. 

The GAO found that application-vetting times varied wildly by program, with NEXUS and SENTRI applications taking the longest.  While CBP has implemented a few changes to expedite the process (for example, by automating background checks), in general it has failed to improve the efficiency of the enrollment process.  Of particular concern was the lack of performance targets; limited interview appointment availability at NEXUS and SENTRI enrollment centers; and lack of systematic data collection and review.  The GAO also found evidence of inconsistencies in enrollment centers’ interview processes, and differential rates of denial between enrollment centers.

Overall impacts of the trusted traveler programs included shorter average wait times for participants than regular traffic at border crossings.  At 15 of 18 crossings with NEXUS lanes, trusted traveler waits were roughly 15 minutes on average shorter than regular travelers in FY 2013.  CBP officers also spent significantly less time inspecting trusted travelers, with NEXUS inspections ranging from 23 seconds to 64 seconds that same year. According to CBP data, the four trusted traveler programs saved over 270,000 CBP officer hours at ports of entry in fiscal year 2013, allowing CBP to focus more resources on travelers they know less about. GAO’s analysis of CBP data also indicated that trusted travelers in fact commit fewer border violations than regular travelers.

To view GAO’s full report, go here: LINK