GAO Kicks out the Jams Today

Today GAO issued more reports than it does in some weeks. Many deserving serious individual attention, but in the interests of what can be done to get them more exposure, here are two of my picks – reports on the “successes” of border security and efforts to promote pay equity.

First, How Secure Are Our Borders?

Two reports are:

Secure Border Initiative: Observations on Deployment Challenges GAO-08-1141T, September 10, 2008

Secure Border Initiative: DHS Needs to Address Significant Risks in Delivering Key Technology Investment GAO-08-1148T, September 10, 2008

In November 2005, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) established the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), a multiyear, multibillion-dollar program to secure U.S. borders. One element of SBI is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) SBI program, which is responsible for developing a comprehensive border protection system through a mix of surveillance and communication technologies known as SBInet (e.g., radars, sensors, cameras, and satellite phones), and tactical infrastructure (e.g., fencing).

What GAO Found

SBInettechnology deployments continue to experience delays and, as a result, Border Patrol agents have to rely upon existing limited technological capabilities to help achieve control of the border. SBI program officials had originally planned to deploy SBInet technology across the southwest border by the end of 2008, but in February 2008 this date had slipped to 2011. In July 2008, officials reported that two initial projects that had been scheduled to be completed by the end of calendar year 2008 would be finished sometime in 2009. SBInet program uncertainties, such as not fully defined program expectations, changes to timelines, and confusion over the need to obtain environmental permits contribute to ongoing delays of SBInet technology deployments. . .

The deployment of fencing is ongoing, but costs are increasing, the life-cycle cost is not yet known, and meeting DHS’s statutorily required goal to have 670 miles of fencing in place by December 31, 2008, will be challenging. As of August 22, 2008, the SBI program office reported that it had constructed a total of 341 miles of fencing, and program officials stated that they plan to meet the December 2008 deadline. However, project costs are increasing and various factors pose challenges to meeting this deadline, such as a short supply of labor and land acquisition issues. According to program officials, as of August 2008, fencing costs averaged $7.5 million per mile for pedestrian fencing and $2.8 million per mile for vehicle fencing, up from estimates in February 2008 of $4 million and $2 million per mile, respectively. Furthermore, the life-cycle cost is not yet known, in part because of increasing construction costs and because the program office has yet to determine maintenance costs and locations for fencing projects beyond December 2008. In addition, land acquisition issues present a challenge to completing fence construction.

Women and the Pay They Do Not Receive

The report is: Women’s Earnings: Federal Agencies Should Better Monitor Their Performance in Enforcing Anti-Discrimination Laws GAO-08-799 August 11, 2008

Although the pay gap between men and women has narrowed over the last several decades, as of 2000 women still earned less than their male counterparts, suggesting that discrimination may still exist. This pay gap underscores the importance of the federal government’s role of enforcing anti-discrimination laws and raising awareness of legal requirements through outreach. While both EEOC and OFCCP have appropriately set broad goals for enforcing all types of discrimination, limited monitoring of specific enforcement efforts, such as gender pay, relative to other areas,diminishes EEOC’s and OFCCP’s ability to pinpoint relative workload trends, effective and ineffective strategies, and contributions to performance goals. In turn, these agencies are ultimately less able to strike an effective balance in allocating increasingly limited resources to address overall discrimination issues. A robust performance monitoring effort requires reliable enforcement data to obtain a complete and accurate picture of how well anti-discrimination laws are being enforced, but the absence of effective internal controls has undermined the reliability of OFCCP’s data. Additionally, OFCCP strives to help contractors understand and meet their obligations — spending about one-third of its budget on technical assistance and outreach — yet does not systematically collect and review information that would help it gauge the cost-effectiveness of these efforts.

And yet others can do this work:

Labor’s Women’s Bureau also provides outreach related to gender pay by creating and promoting programs to address specific needs of working women, such as financial literacy among Generation X women. The Bureau develops these programs as demonstration projects in a few sites for 3 to 4 years and cultivates partnerships to encourage other government, private, or community-based organizations to replicate and fund the projects on a continuing basis. In FY 2007, the Bureau ran three demonstration projects serving at least 2,238 women and 387 employers.
. . .
Since FY 2005, the Women’s Bureau reports 45 replications in over 30 cities, providing services to more than 6,000 women. In contrast to OFCCP, the Women’s Bureau sets and systematically measures its performance against numerical targets.

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