GAO issued recommendations for ICE to improve its budget projection models.

GAO issued recommendations for ICE to improve its budget projection models. alexskopje / Getty Images

ICE might be incorrectly measuring its resources needs, GAO says

A new GAO report found that the office responsible for managing ICE’s budget had a staff vacancy rate of 25% in fiscal 2023.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not perform required reviews of its budget projection models, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday, potentially hamstringing efforts to gauge the resources it needs to enforce immigration laws. 

For example, the Homeland Security Department, which oversees ICE, is supposed to validate ICE’s budget models when they are created and every three years thereafter. But the GAO found that DHS has reviewed only four of 16 budget models identified for review over the past three years. 

Likewise, officials from ICE’s Program Analysis and Evaluation Division said they only review budget models if requested, instead of periodically as required by agency policy. They also told GAO that the division doesn’t have the resources to perform regular reviews. 

Additionally, the watchdog said that ICE did not always follow its policies on developing and updating plans that forecast the agency’s obligations of appropriated funds and, relatedly, has provided incomplete information to the congressional appropriations committees about such plans. 

The report noted that ICE’s Office of Budget and Program Performance, which is responsible for managing the agency’s budget, had a 25% staff vacancy rate in fiscal 2023, which is actually an improvement from fiscal 2020 when the rate was 45%. 

“However, officials in OBPP and in three of the five ICE program offices told us that vacancies and turnover continue to reduce OBPP’s capacity to oversee budget execution,” the report said. “For example, OBPP officials said that staffing challenges cause delayed and incomplete entry of budget data into data systems.” 

GAO recommended that ICE ensure its budget models are periodically reviewed and that spending plans follow agency requirements. It also suggested that ICE develop a plan to address the budget office’s staffing issues. 

“Taking these steps would help ICE more effectively project its resource needs and execute its budget in service of the agency’s mission to enforce immigration laws and combat transnational crime,” the report said. 

DHS concurred with each of the recommendations in a letter accompanying the report. 

A bipartisan immigration and border security proposal in the Senate would significantly ratchet up resources to ICE. However the measure, a response to unprecedented levels of migration at the southwest border, has failed to garner enough support in Congress. 

GAO pointed out that DHS, from fiscal years 2014 through 2023, planned to reprogram $1.8 billion of its funds to support ICE. Such reprogramming has occurred in nine of the last 10 fiscal years. The agency also has received $365 million in supplemental appropriations between fiscal years 2016 and 2023. 

The reprogrammed and supplemental funding was generally used to respond to increased migration at the southwest border, according to the report. 

GAO has included DHS’ financial management on its high-risk list since 2003.