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ICE Immigration Detention Report to Congressional Requesters, GAO, 2014

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United States Government Accountability Office

Report to Congressional Requesters

October 2014

IMMIGRATION
DETENTION
Additional Actions
Needed to Strengthen
Management and
Oversight of Facility
Costs and Standards

GAO-15-153

October 2014

IMMIGRATION DETENTION

Highlights of GAO-15-153, a report to
congressional requesters.

Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen
Management and Oversight of Facility Costs and
Standards

Why GAO Did This Study

What GAO Found

DHS has reported that the number of
noncitizens in immigration detention
has increased from about 230,000 in
fiscal year 2005 to about 440,600 in
fiscal year 2013. ICE applies various
sets of detention standards—such as
medical services—at over 250 facilities
owned by ICE or private contractors, or
owned by or contracted to state and
local governments. GAO was asked to
examine differences in cost, standards,
and oversight across types of facilities.

Within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE) uses two different methods to collect and assess
data on detention costs; however, these methods do not provide ICE with
complete data for managing detention costs across facilities and facility types.
One method uses the agency’s financial management system to estimate total
detention costs per detainee per day for the purposes of developing ICE’s annual
detention budget request. However, ICE identified errors in the entry of data into
this system and limitations in the system make it difficult for ICE to accurately
record expenditures for individual facilities. ICE’s other method involves the
manual tracking of monthly costs by individual facilities for the purposes of
reviewing data on individual facility costs. However, this method does not include
data on all costs for individual facilities, such as for medical care and
transportation, and such costs are not standardized within or across facility types.
Thus, ICE does not have complete data for tracking and managing detention
costs across facilities and facility types. ICE has taken some steps to strengthen
its financial management system, such as implementing manual work-arounds
to, among other things, better link financial transactions to individual facilities.
However, ICE has not assessed the extent to which these manual work-arounds
position ICE to better track and manage costs across facilities or facility types
and the extent to which additional controls are needed to address limitations in its
methods for collecting and assessing detention costs, in accordance with federal
internal control standards. Conducting these assessments could better position
ICE to have more reliable data for tracking and managing costs across facility
types.

This report addresses the extent to
which (1) ICE has processes to track
costs, (2) standards vary across facility
types and the reasons for any
differences, and (3) oversight and the
results of that oversight vary across
facility types. GAO reviewed ICE data
and information on costs, detention
population, standards, and oversight
for 166 facilities that held detainees for
72 hours or more, from fiscal years
2011 through 2013, reviewed facility
contracts, and interviewed federal
contractors and DHS and ICE officials.

What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends, among other
things, that ICE assess the extent to
which it has appropriate controls for
tracking facility costs, document
reasons why facilities cannot be
transitioned to the most recent
standards, and review reasons for
differences in inspection results. DHS
concurred with all recommendations
but one to document reasons why
facilities cannot be transitioned to the
most recent standards because,
among other reasons, DHS believes it
already has sufficient documentation.
As discussed in this report, GAO
continues to believe in the need for
such documentation.
View GAO-15-153. For more information,
contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777
or gamblerr@gao.gov.

GAO’s analysis of ICE facility data showed that ICE primarily used three sets of
detention standards, with the most recent and rigorous standards applied to 25
facilities housing about 54 percent of ICE’s average daily population (ADP) as of
January 2014. ICE plans to expand the use of these standards to 61 facilities
housing 89 percent of total ADP by the end of fiscal year 2014; however,
transition to these standards has been delayed by cost issues and contract
negotiations and ICE does not have documentation for reasons why some
facilities cannot be transitioned to the most recent standards in accordance with
internal control standards. Documenting such reasons could provide an
institutional record and help increase transparency and accountability in ICE’s
management of detention facilities.
GAO’s analysis of ICE facility oversight programs showed that ICE applied more
oversight mechanisms at facilities housing the majority of the ADP in fiscal year
2013. For example, 94 percent of detainees were housed in facilities that
received an annual inspection. GAO’s analysis of ICE’s inspection reports
showed that inspection results differed for 29 of 35 facilities inspected by both
ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) and Office of Detention
Oversight (ODO) in fiscal year 2013. ICE officials stated that ODO and ERO
have not discussed differences in inspection results and whether oversight
mechanisms are functioning as intended. Assessing the reasons why inspection
results differ, in accordance with internal control standards, could help ICE better
ensure that inspection mechanisms are working as intended.
United States Government Accountability Office

Contents

Letter

1
Background
Incomplete ICE Data and Limitations in Controls to Track and
Manage Costs Limit Assessment of Cost Variances across
Detention Facility Types
ICE Applied Different Federal Standards across Facilities but Has
Not Documented Reasons for the Differences
ICE Uses More Oversight Mechanisms at Facilities with Greater
Detainee Populations, with Some Inconsistencies in Results
across Key Mechanisms
Conclusions
Recommendations for Executive Action
Agency Comments and Our Evaluation

35
44
45
46

Appendix I

Objectives, Scope, and Methodology

51

Appendix II

Comparison of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Detention Standards

57

Appendix III

Example of an Italicized Requirement

60

Appendix IV

Example of an Optimal Provision in U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement’s (ICE) 2011 Performance-Based Detention Standards
(PBNDS)

62

Appendix V

Comments from the Department of Homeland Security

64

Appendix VI

GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments

67

Page i

7
13
28

GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

Tables
Table 1: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Over72-Hour Detention Facility Types and Detainee
Populations, as of August 2013
Table 2: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Detention Standards
Table 3: Number of Deficiencies Identified by Enforcement and
Removal Operations (ERO) and Office of Detention
Oversight (ODO) Inspections in Fiscal Year 2013, by
Facility Type
Table 4: Comparison of U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) Detention Standards
Table 5: Example of an Italicized Procedure in the 2011
Performance-Based National Detention Standards
(PBNDS)
Table 6: Example of an Optimal Procedure in the 2011
Performance-Based National Detention Standards
(PBNDS)

9
12

41
57
61
63

Figures
Figure 1: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Detention Over-72-Hour Facility Locations, as of August
2013
Figure 2: Appropriations for Immigration Detention and Number of
Detainees, Fiscal Years 2005-2013
Figure 3: Detention Standards and Average Daily Population
(ADP) by Facility Type, Fiscal Year 2013
Figure 4: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Oversight Mechanisms Used at Detention Facilities in
Fiscal Year 2013, by Facility Type
Figure 5: Percentage of Fiscal Year 2013 Average Daily
Population in Detention Facilities Covered by Type of
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Oversight Mechanism

Page ii

10
11
31
38

40

GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

Abbreviations
ADP
AOR
CDF
CFMF
COR
DHS
DIGSA
DOJ
DSM
ERO
FFMS
FPMS
ICE
IGA
IHSC
IPERA
IPERIA
IPIA
NDS
OAQ
OBPP
ODO
ODPP
OIG
OMB
OPR
ORSA
PBNDS
SCA
SPC
USMS

average daily population
area of responsibility
contract detention facility
Contract Financial Monitoring File
contracting officer representative
Department of Homeland Security
dedicated intergovernmental service agreement
Department of Justice
detention service manager
Enforcement and Removal Operations
Federal Financial Management System
Facility Performance Management System
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
intergovernmental agreement
ICE Health Service Corps
Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act
Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery
Improvement Act
Improper Payments Information Act
National Detention Standards
Office of Acquisition Management
Office of Budget and Program Performance
Office of Detention Oversight
Office of Detention Policy and Planning
Office of the Inspector General
Office of Management and Budget
Office of Professional Responsibility
Operation Review Self-Assessment
Performance-Based National Detention Standards
Services Contracting Act
service processing center
U.S. Marshals Service

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

441 G St. N.W.
Washington, DC 20548

October 10, 2014
Congressional Requesters
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported that the number of
aliens in immigration detention has increased from a total of about
230,000 over the course of fiscal year 2005 to a total of about 440,600
over the course of fiscal year 2013, 1 and that appropriations for detention
have more than doubled, from about $700 million in 2005 to nearly $2
billion in fiscal year 2014. 2 Federal law mandates that DHS maintain
34,000 immigration detention beds to house aliens each day in fiscal year
2014, 3 and DHS’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has
responsibility to provide safe, secure, and humane confinement for aliens
in the United States who may be subject to removal while they await the
resolution of their immigration cases or have been ordered removed from
the United States. 4 ICE fulfills this responsibility by applying various sets
of detention standards at over 250 detention facilities that are either
owned by ICE, owned by private contractors, or owned by or contracted
to state and local governments. These standards cover a variety of
issues, including detainee safety, security, care, and the administration
and management of the facilities. 5 To oversee the operations of these

1
These figures reflect the number of instances in which individuals were checked into U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities over the course of each
fiscal year; some individuals may have been admitted more than once or to more than one
facility during a fiscal year.
2
Aliens may be removed from the United States for violations such as illegally entering
the United States, failing to abide by the terms and conditions of admission, engaging in
violent crimes, perpetrating document and benefit fraud, engaging in terrorist activities, or
participating in drug smuggling. The Immigration and Nationality Act provides DHS with
broad authority to detain aliens believed to be removable while awaiting a determination of
whether they should be removed from the United States and mandates that DHS detain
certain categories of aliens. (See 8 U.S.C. §§ 1225, 1226, 1226a, 1231.)
3

Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014, Pub. L. No. 113-76, 128 Stat. 5, 251.

4

See 8 U.S.C. §§ 1225, 1226, 1226a, 1231.

5

These standards generally cover seven areas: detainee safety (e.g., environmental
health and safety); detainee, staff, and facility security (e.g., sexual abuse and assault
prevention and intervention and searches of detainees); detainee order (e.g., disciplinary
system; detainee care (e.g., medical care); detainee activities (e.g., recreation); detainee
justice (e.g., grievance system and law libraries and legal material); and administration
and management (e.g., detention files and staff training).

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

facilities and ensure that they adhere to detention standards, DHS and
ICE employ a variety of oversight mechanisms that can include a mix of
annual, biennial, or self-inspections; periodic compliance inspections of
selected facilities; and continuous on-site monitoring by a detention
service manager.
Various ICE components have roles and responsibilities for detention
management. ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO)
identifies, apprehends, and removes aliens when it deems necessary,
and oversees the confinement of detainees across facilities in accordance
with immigration detention standards. ICE’s Office of Acquisition
Management (OAQ) negotiates and manages detention facility contracts
and agreements, and the Office of Detention Policy and Planning (ODPP)
leads efforts to design detention standards used at facilities managed by
ERO. ICE’s Office of Budget and Program Performance (OBPP) develops
and analyzes budget projections, and ERO’s Operations Support Division
tracks facility expenditures and allocations. Detention facility oversight is
conducted by both ERO and the Office of Detention Oversight (ODO),
which is located in ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).
ERO’s Custody Management contracts with an inspector to conduct
annual or biennial inspections at facilities to assess compliance with ICE
detention standards and oversees self-assessment inspections, which
apply to selected facilities. ERO also oversees the on-site Detention
Monitoring Program, created in 2010, which places ICE detention service
managers (DSM) at selected facilities to continuously monitor compliance
with ICE detention standards. ODO generally conducts periodic
inspections of selected facilities based on designated risk factors.

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

You asked us to review differences in costs, standards, and oversight
across the various types of immigration detention facilities. 6 This report
addresses the following questions: (1) How do federal costs compare
across different types of immigration detention facilities, and to what
extent does ICE have processes to track and manage these costs? (2) To
what extent do the federal standards that govern conditions of
confinement vary across different types of immigration detention facilities,
and what are the reasons for any differences? (3) To what extent do
federal oversight and the results of that oversight vary across different
types of immigration facilities?
To determine how federal costs compare across different types of
immigration detention facilities, we analyzed ICE fiscal year 2013 data,
the most recent fiscal year for which data were available, related to ICE
expenditures for detention facilities. 7 To determine the reliability of these
data, we conducted data testing, reviewed documentation, and
interviewed agency officials. We determined that some of these data were
sufficiently reliable to provide a general indication of approximate ranges
of costs across and within facility types, but have limitations as discussed
later in the report. To determine the reasons for possible differences in
facility costs, we analyzed ICE documents, including an ICE-funded study
of detention bed rate costs across facilities, and interviewed agency

6
DHS defines an immigration detention facility as a confinement facility operated by or
affiliated with ICE that routinely holds persons for over 24 hours. However, of the 251
facilities authorized by ICE to hold detainees as of August 2013, we limited our analysis to
the 166 facilities that were designated to hold detainees for 72 hours or longer because of
the frequent turnover in the detainee population at short-term facilities—such as holding
facilities and prisons—which temporarily house detainees waiting for ICE transfer. Of
these 166 facilities, ICE documentation showed that 155 held at least one detainee in
fiscal year 2013, while 11 facilities did not hold any detainees during this time period. In
addition to the under-72-hour facilities, we also excluded three federal prisons where ICE
had detention bed space in fiscal year 2013; two of the prisons housed a few detainees
and the third prison was discontinued for immigration detainees as of the end of calendar
year 2013, according to Bureau of Prisons and ICE officials. We also excluded facilities for
juvenile detainees—individuals under 18 years of age—because these facilities are
overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services.
7
These data were drawn from the Contract Financial Monitoring File, a manual tool
maintained by ICE ERO Operations Support Division to monitor contract obligations and
costs, and from ICE’s Federal Financial Management System.

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

officials. 8 We assessed the methodology for the ICE-funded study and
determined that it was sufficiently reliable for our purposes. To determine
the extent to which ICE has processes to track and manage detention
facility costs, we analyzed relevant documents, such as ICE financial
management guidance and GAO reports, and interviewed agency
officials. 9 We assessed our findings related to ICE’s financial
management practices against Standards for Internal Control in the
Federal Government and ICE’s fiscal years 2010-2014 strategic plan. 10
We also analyzed the extent to which ICE’s average daily population
(ADP) in its facilities met the guaranteed minimums—the number of beds
ICE pays for each day regardless of their utilization—in those facilities.
We interviewed agency officials about future plans to develop guidance
related to factoring cost into detainee placement decisions, and assessed
those plans against Standards for Internal Control in the Federal
Government. 11 We reviewed relevant laws, such as the Improper
Payments Elimination and Recovery Improvement Act (IPERIA) of 2012,
as well as related Office of Management and Budget guidance. 12 We
analyzed a sample of invoices and supporting documentation submitted
to ICE by detention services contractors in December 2013—specifically,
31 of the 158 invoices submitted by facility contractors to ICE by February
2014 for services provided in December 2013, the month for which ICE
indicated that changes it made to its invoicing process were
implemented—to determine the extent to which these invoices met ICE’s

8

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of the Chief Financial Officer.
Detention Bed Space Procurement Analysis; Report on ICE Detention Sourcing
(Washington D.C.: April 2014). The purpose of the study was to analyze the effectiveness
of the ICE detention bed procurement process, develop a common approach to the
procurement of detention beds, and recommend solutions to ICE to improve its approach,
particularly for ICE-owned service processing centers (SPC).
9

See GAO, High-Risk Series: An Update, GAO-13-283 (Washington, D.C.: February
2013), and DHS Financial Management: Additional Efforts Needed to Resolve
Deficiencies in Internal Controls and Financial Management Systems, GAO-13-561
(Washington, D.C.: Sept. 30, 2013).
10

GAO, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1
(Washington D.C.: November 1999).
11

GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.

12

Pub. L. No. 112-248, 126 Stat. 2390.

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

requirements. We assessed these invoices against ICE’s requirements
and Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government. 13
To assess the extent to which federal standards that govern conditions of
confinement vary across different types of immigration detention facilities,
and reasons for any differences, we identified ICE detention standards,
including the 2000 National Detention Standards (NDS), the 2008
Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS), and the
2011 PBNDS and analyzed the extent to which ICE applied these
standards across detention facilities. 14 We analyzed the three sets of
standards to assess similarities and differences among the standards. To
identify the standards to which each facility was held, we analyzed the
standards included in 166 facility contracts and agreements in place as of
January 2014, the period in which ICE had last provided us a list of
facilities that are authorized to house detainees for over 72 hours when
we began our analysis. To determine the percentage of ICE detainees
who were covered by each set of standards during fiscal year 2013, the
most recent fiscal year for which data were available, we analyzed the
standards to which each facility was held against the ADP. In addition, we
analyzed ERO’s plans to implement the 2011 PBNDS and interviewed
relevant ICE officials to determine why standards might vary by facility
type. Further, we analyzed 41 waivers ICE granted to facilities to exempt
them from certain detention standards and which were in effect as of
August 2014, when we performed the analysis; these waivers were
approved from fiscal years 2012 through August 2014. We also assessed
the extent to which ICE documented its decision-making process for
determining which standards to apply at which facilities against Standards
for Internal Control in the Federal Government. 15

13

GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.

14

ICE has a fourth set of detention standards, the 2007 Residential Standards. We
excluded these standards because at the time we conducted our work, the standards
applied to two facilities that housed less than 2 percent of the average daily detention
population in fiscal year 2013. As of September 2014, ICE reported that it has significantly
increased the number of detainees in family detention because of a recent surge in
parents with children illegally crossing the southwest border, and therefore is now using
three facilities to house family units in Berks, Pennsylvania; Artesia, New Mexico; and
Karnes, Texas.
15

GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

To assess how federal oversight compares across different types of
immigration detention facilities, we identified the various oversight
mechanisms ICE used at detention facilities in fiscal year 2013 and
analyzed differences in their use and results. 16 With respect to ERO’s
inspection program, we analyzed ERO inspection data for fiscal year
2013, the most recent fiscal year for which inspection data were available.
We assessed the reliability of these data by conducting data testing, such
as checking for duplicate entries and interviewing officials, and we
determined that these data were sufficiently reliable for the purposes of
this report. We compared the percentage of fiscal year 2013 ADP in
immigration detention facilities by facility type and oversight mechanisms
used at facilities with the percentage of ICE’s ADP at each facility to
determine what percentage of detainees were housed in facilities at which
ICE used the various oversight mechanisms. To determine how the
results of facility inspections may vary across the two ICE offices that
conduct facility inspections, we compared the results of ICE inspections
for facilities that were inspected by both ICE offices in fiscal year 2013,
and interviewed agency officials as to reasons for any differences in
inspection results. We also assessed ICE’s review of inspection results
against Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government. 17
Additional details on our scope and methodology are contained in
appendix I.
We conducted this performance audit from March 2013 to October 2014,
in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain
sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that
the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and
conclusions based on our audit objectives.

16

We analyzed the extent to which ICE used (1) annual and biennial facility inspections
conducted by an ERO contractor, (2) annual facility self-inspections conducted under
ERO’s Operational Review Self-Assessment (ORSA) process, (3) ERO’s detention
service manager on-site monitoring program, and (4) Office of Detention Oversight riskbased facility inspections, at 166 ICE facilities authorized to hold detainees for over 72
hours as of August 2013.

17

GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

Background
Legislation and
Requirements Pertaining
to Immigration Detention

The Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended, provides ICE with
broad authority to detain aliens believed to be removable while awaiting a
determination of whether they should be removed from the United States
as well as aliens ordered removed, and mandates that ICE detain certain
categories of aliens. 18 The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant
Responsibility Act of 1996 increased the number of aliens subject to
mandatory detention, resulting in the former Immigration and
Naturalization Service expanding the number of detention beds available
to meet the mandate. 19 The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention
Act of 2004 directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to further
increase the number of detention beds by 8,000 annually starting in fiscal
year 2006 and continuing through fiscal year 2010. 20 Subsequently, the
House Appropriations Committee began incorporating a mandate into the
annual appropriations bill. The fiscal year 2014 appropriation act requires
DHS to maintain 34,000 detention beds per day. 21

Detention Population,
Facility Types, and
Locations

Immigration custody is civil, not criminal, detention, and is not to be
punitive; rather, ICE is to confine detainees for the administrative purpose
of holding, processing, and preparing them for removal. According to ICE
data, during fiscal year 2013, the agency housed an average of 32,805
detainees in its detention facilities each day and held detainees for an
average of about 27 days. 22 ICE detainees include a mix of men and
women from a wide variety of countries and with criminal and noncriminal

18

See 8 U.S.C. §§ 1225, 1226, 1226a, 1231.

19
Pub. L. No. 104-208, div. C, tit. III, subtit. A, F, §§ 302, 303, 305, 386, 110 Stat. 3009546, 3009-579 to 3009-587, 3009-597 to 3009-607, 3009-653 to 3009-654. Aliens subject
to mandatory detention include those who are in the United States without legal
documentation or with fraudulent documentation, inadmissible or deportable on criminal or
national security grounds, certified as terrorist suspects, or under final orders of removal.
Aliens not subject to mandatory detention may be detained, paroled (granted temporary
permission to enter and be present in the United States), or released on bond. See 8
U.S.C. §§1225, 1226, 1226a, 1231.
20

Pub. L. No. 108-458, tit. V, subtit. B, § 5204(a), 118 Stat, 3638, 3734.

21

Pub. L. No. 113-76, 128 Stat. 5, 251.

22

These data are approximations for ICE detention facilities.

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

backgrounds. 23 When detention facilities admit aliens, they are to use a
classification system that separates detainees by threat risk and special
vulnerabilities by assigning them a custody level of low, medium, or high.
From fiscal years 2010 through 2013, about 44 percent of ICE detainees
were of a low custody level, 41 percent were of a medium custody level,
and 15 percent were of a high custody level. 24
ERO oversees the confinement of ICE detainees in approximately 250
detention facilities that it manages in conjunction with private contractors
or state or local governments, of which 166 were authorized to house
detainees for over 72 hours, as of August 2013. 25 Over 90 percent of the
facilities are operated under agreements with state and local
governments and house about half of ICE’s total detention population,
together with, or separately from, other confined populations. The
remaining facilities house exclusively ICE detainees and are operated by
a mixture of private contractors and ICE, state, and local government
employees. Table 1 presents information about the number and types of
facilities that ICE uses to house detainees, the entities that own and
operate them, and the percentage of the detainee population confined in
each facility type.

23
ICE generally does not detain children, with the exception of children whom the agency
detains with their families at a family residential facility. ICE must transfer unaccompanied
alien children less than 18 years of age who are unlawfully in the United States without a
parent or other legal guardian to the Department of Health and Human Services Office of
Refugee Resettlement’s custody within 72 hours of determining that they are
unaccompanied alien children. See 8 U.S.C. § 1232(b)(3).
24

ICE’s custody classification system considers various factors including the detainee’s
most recent charge or conviction, the most serious conviction in the individual’s criminal
history, any other prior felony convictions, any attempts to escape from custody, if the
individual has a history of assaultive behavior, and the individual’s behavioral history. In
2010, ICE shifted its overall enforcement priorities with a June 2010 policy memorandum
that detailed the priorities for alien apprehension, detention, and removal as follows: (1)
aliens who pose a danger to national security or a risk to public safety—including aliens
convicted of crimes—and (2) recent illegal entrants and aliens who are fugitives or
otherwise obstruct immigration controls. According to the memo, ICE established these
priorities because it has resources to remove only approximately 400,000 aliens per year
from the country, less than 4 percent of the estimated illegal alien population in the United
States.

25

The remaining facilities were authorized to house detainees for up to 72 hours.

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

Table 1: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Over-72-Hour Detention Facility Types and Detainee Populations,
as of August 2013

Number of
facilities

Percentage of
detainee
population

Facility type

Description

Service
processing center

Facilities owned by ICE, operated by a mix of ICE employees and
contractor staff, that exclusively house ICE detainees.

6

11

Contract
detention facility

Facilities owned and operated by private companies under direct ICE
contract that exclusively house ICE detainees.

7

18

Dedicated
intergovernmental
a
service agreement

Facilities owned by state and local governments or private entities,
operated under agreements with state and local governments, that
exclusively house ICE detainees.

9

24

Family residential

Facility owned and operated by a local government entity that houses
children and their families and exclusively houses ICE detainees.

1

<1

Nondedicated
intergovernmental
service agreement

Facilities owned by state and local governments or private entities,
operated under agreement by state and local governments, that house
ICE detainees in addition to other confined populations (e.g., inmates),
either together or separately.

72

28

U.S. Marshals
Service (USMS)
intergovernmental
agreement or contract

Facilities owned and operated by state and local governments or
private entities under agreement or contract with USMS within the
Department of Justice (DOJ) to house federal prisoners until they are
acquitted or convicted. ICE takes out task orders against the USMS
intergovernmental agreement and contracts to house immigration
detainees at these facilities, either together with or separately from
other populations.

71

19

Source: GAO analysis of ICE information. | GAO-15-153

Notes: ICE authorizes facilities to house detainees for up to 72 hours or more than 72 hours. In
addition to the over-72-hour facilities listed in this table, ICE also had 85 facilities authorized to house
detainees for up to 72 hours, as of August 2013. These consisted of 31 nondedicated
intergovernmental service agreement facilities and 54 USMS intergovernmental agreement facilities.
In addition to the 85 facilities authorized to house detainees for up to 72 hours and the facilities listed
in this table, ICE also used 3 facilities operated by the DOJ Federal Bureau of Prisons to confine
detainees, but the majority of detainees were removed from these facilities by the end of calendar
year 2013.
a

ICE initially used 1 of these facilities as a family residential facility, but in 2009 converted it to a
women-only facility; for the purposes of this review, we considered it to be a facility operating under a
dedicated intergovernmental service agreement (DIGSA).

ICE’s detention facilities are located across the United States. In general,
facilities that house the most detainees and exclusively ICE detainees are
concentrated in the states along the southern United States border, while
facilities that house fewer detainees are more evenly distributed across
the nation. Figure 1 presents the locations of ICE’s over-72-hour facilities
by size and type.

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

Figure 1: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention Over-72-Hour Facility Locations, as of August 2013

Detention Costs

The number of admissions to detention and related appropriations has
more than doubled since 2005, as shown in figure 2. In fiscal year 2014,
Congress provided about $2.8 billion for detention and removal

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operations, which include ICE’s maintenance of 34,000 detention beds,
as required by law. 26
Figure 2: Appropriations for Immigration Detention and Number of Detainees, Fiscal
Years 2005-2013

Note: Costs include total enacted appropriations for each year.
a

Fiscal year 2013 costs includes a .132 percent across-the-board-reduction and sequestration, prior
to reprogramming.

Detention Standards

ICE primarily uses three sets of national detention standards with varying
requirements to govern the conditions of confinement in its detention
facilities. ICE establishes the set of standards applicable to each
detention facility through an individual contract or agreement with the
facility. Accordingly, different facilities are governed by different
standards. Table 2 provides information about each of these three sets of
standards.

26

Pub. L. No. 113-76, 128 Stat. 5, 251.

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Table 2: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention Standards
2000 National
Detention Standards
(NDS)

These standards are derived from the American Correctional Association’s Standards for Adult Local
Detention Facilities, Third Edition, and were developed by the former Immigration and Naturalization Service
within the Department of Justice (DOJ) in consultation with various stakeholders, including the American Bar
Association—an association of attorneys—and organizations involved in pro bono representation and
advocacy for immigration detainees. Following the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in
2002, DHS became responsible for immigration detention and began operating the detention system under
the 2000 NDS.

2008 PerformanceBased National
Detention Standards
(PBNDS)

ICE revised the 2000 NDS to integrate changes included in, and moved to a performance-based format more
in line with, the American Correctional Association’s Performance-Based Standards for Adult Local Detention
Facilities, Fourth Edition. The 2008 PBNDS, which ICE developed in coordination with agency stakeholders
to apply to adult detention populations, prescribe the expected outcomes of each detention standard and the
expected practices required to achieve them. The 2008 PBNDS also include more detailed requirements for
service processing centers and contract detention facilities.

2011 PBNDS

ICE revised the 2008 PBNDS to improve conditions of confinement in various ways, including medical and
mental health services, access to legal services and religious opportunities, communication with detainees
with no or limited English proficiency, the process for reporting and responding to complaints, and recreation
and visitation. The 2011 PBNDS also expanded the more detailed requirements for service processing
centers and contract detention facilities included in the 2008 PBNDS to dedicated intergovernmental service
agreement facilities or, in some cases, to all facilities.

Source: GAO analysis of ICE information. | GAO- 15-153

Note: A fourth set of detention standards—the 2007 Family Residential Standards—pertained to two
facilities as of August 2013—one owned and operated by a local government entity that houses
children and their families, and exclusively houses ICE detainees; the other, as of 2009, designated
to house women only. For the purposes of this review we considered the women-only facility to be a
facility managed as a dedicated intergovernmental service agreement facility. The Family Residential
Standards are based on ICE analysis of family detention operations and state statutes that affect
children. Less than 2 percent of ICE’s average daily population is held in residential facilities. U.S.
Marshals Service intergovernmental agreement facilities are under agreements to adhere to DOJ
detention standards. Facilities under private contract with the U.S. Marshals Service are to adhere to
the Federal Performance-Based Detention Standards, which incorporate elements of American
Correctional Association standards, DOJ standards, and the 2000 NDS.

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Incomplete ICE Data
and Limitations in
Controls to Track
and Manage Costs
Limit Assessment
of Cost Variances
across Detention
Facility Types
ICE Does Not Have
Complete Data for
Managing Detention
Costs and Operations

ICE has two offices, OBPP and ERO Operations Support Division, that
use different methods to collect and assess data on detention
expenditures and costs for different purposes; however, these two
methods do not provide ICE with complete data for managing detention
costs across facilities and facility types. First, for the purposes of
developing ICE’s annual budget requests for detention, ICE’s OBPP
developed a method to estimate total detention costs per detainee per
day. ICE refers to this as the bed-rate—or the total cost to house 1
detainee for 1 day. OBPP estimates this bed rate for budgetary purposes
by conducting standardized, repeatable queries of ICE’s financial
management system—the Federal Financial Management System. 27
These standardized queries provide ICE with an average overall bed rate
and the average bed rate for each of ICE’s 24 areas of responsibility. 28
However, ICE officials stated that through fiscal year 2013 these queries
did not produce data that can be used to track or manage costs for
individual facilities or facility types because of errors in how ICE field
office personnel enter data into ICE’s Federal Financial Management
System and limitations in the system that make it difficult for ICE to
accurately record expenditures for all individual facilities. Specifically,
OBPP officials said that field office personnel manually enter financial
codes for each expenditure to categorize and provide descriptive

27

ICE OBPP’s bed rate estimate captures all detention-related costs including medical
costs and ICE overhead costs, but does not include transportation costs.

28

ICE ERO divides its operations geographically, and operates 24 field offices, each of
which oversees operations in its area of responsibility.

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information about that expenditure—such as if it was for detention
operations—which allows ICE to link expenditures to specific facilities,
among other things. However, OBPP officials have found significant
coding errors in these data fields for costs incurred through fiscal year
2013. For example, according to the officials, charges for 5 facilities
operating under intergovernmental service agreements (IGSA) in five
states were erroneously assigned to a SPC, because, according to ICE
officials, the facilities were in different counties with the same name. In
addition, while ICE could link expenditures to individual facilities of certain
types—specifically SPCs, contract detention facilities (CDF), and facilities
operating under a dedicated intergovernmental service agreement
(DIGSA)—in its Federal Financial Management System in fiscal year
2013, it could not link expenditures to individual facilities operating under
an IGSA because there were not codes in ICE’s Federal Financial
Management System to link expenditures to IGSAs during fiscal year
2013. According to ICE officials, in fiscal year 2014, ICE introduced new
financial coding processes. These processes are intended to address this
limitation and allow costs to be linked to all types of facilities, including
IGSA facilities; however, as ICE has recently begun to implement these
new processes, it is too soon to determine the extent to which they will
provide ICE with more reliable cost data across individual facilities and
facility types.
Second, for the purposes of tracking monthly costs at individual facilities,
among other purposes, ICE ERO’s Operations Support Division—the
budget office within ERO—developed a mechanism to manually track
monthly costs by facility, called the Contract Financial Monitoring File,
according to ICE ERO Operations Support Division officials. Specifically,
the Operations Support Division developed the Contract Financial
Monitoring File to monitor obligations and monthly expenditures related to
the primary contract for each detention facility using information manually
taken from facility invoices and contracts in addition to data in the Federal
Financial Management System, according to ERO officials and Contract
Financial Monitoring File guidance. The Operations Support Division
developed this manual tool to work around the limitations in the Federal
Financial Management System, which, in addition to those limitations
discussed above, does not automatically interface with ICE’s invoice

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management system, according to ICE officials. 29 Operations Support
Division officials said they use the Contract Financial Monitoring File data
to determine how much funding to allocate to each facility and to track
expenditures and contract pricing at a single facility over time, among
other uses. However, these data have limitations that preclude using the
data to track and manage costs across individual facilities and facility
types. For example, the Contract Financial Monitoring File data do not
consistently or completely capture costs for facilities because some
facility contracts include services such as medical care and
transportation, while other contracts do not. 30 For facilities with contracts
that do not include such services, ICE or service providers contract with a
third-party to provide these services. As a result, ICE officials said that
some higher-cost facilities may therefore be providing services that are
not provided by lower-cost facilities, or that are provided and billed by
third parties. For example, ERO officials said that ICE provides medical
care at most CDFs either through the ICE Health Service Corps or
through a separate third-party contract with a health care provider,
instead of directly through the facility operator. 31 ICE’s medical costs paid
for through headquarters—which, according to ICE officials totaled about
$157.6 million in fiscal year 2013—are not reflected in facility invoice
costs, and therefore are not included in the Contract Financial Monitoring

29

A 2012 assessment of ICE’s current financial system’s capabilities conducted by Booz
Allen Hamilton found that the Federal Financial Management System lacked managerial
cost accounting mechanisms to automatically report on key metrics—such as costs per
detainee bed. The assessment found that ICE had to manually extract and analyze the
data needed to report on these key metrics from the Federal Financial Management
System—a labor-intensive process that required ICE to dedicate significant staff
resources to report on costs of specific programs, projects, or activities. Booz Allen
Hamilton Inc., Core Financial System Analysis of Alternatives Project Final Capability
Assessment Report for Department of Homeland Security U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement Office of the Chief Financial Officer (Washington D.C.: Jan. 27, 2012).
30

The Contract Financial Monitoring File data include ICE payments for services billed
under the primary detention contract or agreement for each facility for CDFs and facilities
operating under IGSAs and under DIGSAs. For SPCs, ICE tracks expenditures associated
with the primary detention contracts as well as maintaining a separate tracking
spreadsheet for costs associated with ancillary contracts that address other facility-related
services—such as food, maintenance, or trash collection—provided through separate
contracts.

31
ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) serves as the medical authority for ICE. IHSC
provides direct care to detainees housed at 21 facilities throughout the nation and
oversees medical care for detainees housed at non-IHSC-staffed detention facilities
across the country. When necessary, it authorizes and pays for off-site specialty and
emergency care, consultations, and case management.

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File as costs to those individual facilities. Other facilities that directly
provide these services would reflect these costs in facility invoices, and
these costs would therefore be tracked separately in the Contract
Financial Monitoring File. Further, some facilities provide transportation
for detainees as part of the primary detention contract, and therefore the
Operations Support Division captures these costs—which composed up
to 47 percent of total facility expenditures in fiscal year 2013—for each
facility in the Contract Financial Monitoring File. However, at other
facilities, transportation services are not included in the facility contract.
For these facilities, ICE provides transportation services for detainees
through separate contracts with transportation providers, which ERO
tracks separately, and does not link these costs to individual facilities in
the Contract Financial Monitoring File. 32 In addition, the file’s cost data do
not include ICE overhead costs that vary across facilities. These costs
include, among other things, shared utilities and telecommunication
charges that occur in the field but are paid for through ICE service-wide
contracts, according to an ICE official. As a result of these limitations, the
Contract Financial Monitoring File data cannot be used for tracking and
managing cost data across individual facilities and facility types.
Since 2009, ICE has taken some steps to strengthen how it tracks and
manages detention costs and expenditures. However, we identified
limitations in ICE’s controls and processes in three areas. These
limitations relate to (1) collecting and maintaining cost data, (2) ensuring
cost is considered in placing aliens in detention facilities, and (3)
preventing improper payments to detention facility operators.
Collecting and maintaining cost data. ICE is in the process of planning
to upgrade its new financial management system; however, ICE does not
have a target time frame for when this upgrade will occur, according to
ICE officials. The agency, however, has taken steps to manually track
and manage costs, referred to as manual work-arounds. First, ICE has
required field office personnel to use a new coding system to link all
financial transactions entered into the Federal Financial Management

32

For some field offices, ICE consolidated transportation for all facilities within the field
offices’ areas of responsibility (AOR) to reduce costs, according to ICE officials. For
example, ICE consolidated transportation for all facilities within the San Antonio Field
Office’s AOR in fiscal year 2012 as a cost reduction measure. In these instances, ICE
ERO Operations Support Division tracks costs associated with the transportation contract
but does not assign the costs to specific facilities.

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System to individual facilities, including IGSAs, to help ICE more reliably
track costs. According to ICE OBPP officials, this requirement began in
fiscal year 2014. Second, ICE has taken steps to help ensure that
expenditures are correctly applied to obligations in the Federal Financial
Management System. These steps include developing standard operating
procedures for linking obligations to expenditures and, beginning in the
third quarter of fiscal year 2014, requiring personnel to input a specific
period of performance for each facility expenditure, according to ICE
officials. Finally, as a manual work-around for estimating transportation
costs, ICE has developed a statement of work to study transportation
costs to optimize ICE’s ground and air transportation networks and
identify any inefficiencies in the current process. 33
Although these manual work-arounds are positive steps that should help
strengthen the completeness and reliability of ICE data on detention
facilities costs, ICE has not assessed the extent to which these manual
work-arounds are sufficient to address data limitations and allow it to
reliably compare costs among and across facilities and facility types,
according to ICE officials. ICE officials said they have not conducted such
an assessment because they have focused on higher priorities, such as
developing a national bed rate to support the agency’s annual budget
request. In addition, ICE has not assessed the extent to which additional
internal controls are needed to address the challenges we identified and
collect and maintain more complete data on costs and expenditures for
individual facilities. For example, as previously discussed, ICE identified
data entry errors made by staff in entering cost data into the Federal
Financial Management System. ICE also identified challenges in tracking
and maintaining complete data on all costs or expenditures associated
with individual facilities, including costs for medical care and
transportation, for example. ICE has not assessed the extent to which
additional controls, such as a process to check for data entry errors, could
help the agency track and maintain more complete data on detention
facility costs, as ICE stated that the agency recently implemented the
manual work-arounds.
The ICE Strategic Plan FY2010-2014 states that ICE will proactively
identify and correct financial and operational risks and continually

33

According to an ICE official, ICE had not started the study as of August 2014, but plans
to issue a request for proposal in September 2014.

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

strengthen internal controls to safeguard the public’s resources and trust.
ICE has strengthened some controls, but it has not assessed the extent
to which it has appropriate internal controls in place for all tracking and
reporting of financial information to link costs to individual facilities.
Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government notes that
internal controls are an integral part of each system that management
uses to regulate and guide its operations, and that control activities are an
integral part of an entity’s planning, implementing, review, and
accountability for stewardship of government resources and achieving
effective results. 34 Furthermore, the standards state that control activities,
which include a wide range of diverse actions and maintenance of related
records, need to be clearly documented and help to ensure that all
transactions are completely and accurately recorded. 35 Assessing the
extent to which ICE’s manual work-arounds could provide ICE with more
complete data on facility costs and the extent to which additional controls
may be needed could better position ICE to have more reliable data for
tracking and managing costs across facilities and facility types. Moreover,
as ICE is in the process of planning for upgrading its financial
management system, assessing the extent to which the appropriate
internal controls are in place for tracking and managing detention facility
costs and developing any additional controls deemed necessary could
help provide ICE with more complete data to help ensure that ICE is
accurately tracking costs and has the data needed to appropriately and
effectively manage detention costs.
Ensuring cost is considered in placing aliens in detention facilities.
ICE ERO officials stated that field office personnel are to take cost into
account, as appropriate, when making detainee placement decisions;
however, ICE headquarters does not have a process or controls in place
to ensure that field offices are appropriately considering cost in order to
promote efficient field office management. ERO field offices are
responsible for deciding where to house detainees within their areas of
responsibility and are to consider a variety of factors, including cost, when
making detainee placement decisions, according to ICE officials. ICE
ERO officials stated that other factors that may be more important than
cost in making placement decisions include whether (1) the detainee has
medical needs that can be best served by a particular facility, (2) the

34

GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.

35

GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

detainee has an attorney or family located near a particular facility, and
(3) there are transportation requirements to bring the detainee to the
facility.
ERO officials stated that field offices are to place detainees in facilities
that have guaranteed minimum populations when possible, as ICE pays
for these beds regardless of whether or not they are used. 36 In addition,
facilities that have guaranteed minimums tend to have tiered pricing—
meaning the contractor charges a lower per diem for each detainee
housed above an agreed-upon guaranteed minimum number of detainees
and below the facility’s full capacity—than at other facilities that do not
have guaranteed minimums.
In 2009, the DHS Office of the Inspector General reported that ICE had
not fully implemented its National Detention Management Plan, resulting
in mixed progress in moving toward a more cost-effective strategy for
acquiring detention bed space. 37 Since then, according to ICE officials,
the agency has taken steps to ensure that cost is taken into account, as
appropriate, in deciding where to house detainees. For example, ICE
ERO headquarters develops daily capacity reports that show the
percentage of capacity filled at SPCs, CDFs, DIGSAs, and large IGSAs.
According to ICE ERO headquarters officials, if they notice that a
particular area of responsibility has open space in facilities with
guaranteed minimums, they can call the field office director to find out
why the guaranteed minimum is not being met.
However, our analysis of ICE data showed that in some cases ICE did not
fill all guaranteed minimum bed spaces, effectively paying for beds that
the agency did not use. Specifically, our analysis of the ADP and ICE’s
contractual guaranteed minimums at selected dedicated facilities for fiscal
years 2011 through 2013 showed instances where ICE paid for beds it
did not use. For example, our analysis showed that the ADP at a CDF
had fewer detainees than the guaranteed minimum for each fiscal year,
2011 through 2013, which is the equivalent of about $3.6 million in bed
space that ICE did not use, based on the per diem rates for this period.
According to ICE officials, the guaranteed minimum had been negotiated

36

Guaranteed minimums generally apply to ICE’s dedicated facilities.

37

DHS Office of the Inspector General, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Detention
Bedspace Management, OIG-09-52 (Washington D.C.: April 2009).

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with the facility by USMS, which previously used the facility, and ICE
renegotiated a lower guaranteed minimum in fiscal year 2012. However,
we noted that the ADP in fiscal years 2012 and 2013 remained below the
revised guaranteed minimum number of beds. 38 ERO officials also said
that during that timeframe ICE moved detainees from the CDF to a new
facility that ERO opened nearby that was intended to better meet ICE’s
civil detention goals.
We also found instances through fiscal year 2014—as of July 2014—in
which ICE placed the guaranteed minimum of detainees in facilities, but
did not take advantage of the tiered pricing structure, which would have
provided less costly bed rates for detainees placed above the guaranteed
minimum. For example, at one CDF, ICE met the guaranteed minimum
each year from fiscal years 2011 through 2013 and also housed
additional detainees at the facility, for whom ICE was charged a lower
bed rate because the facility has a tiered pricing structure. However, the
number of detainees housed over the guaranteed minimum also
decreased each year over that time period. Therefore, because ICE did
not maximize the number of detainees over and above the guaranteed
minimum, the average cost per detainee at the facility increased from
$133 per day in 2012 to $135 per day in 2013. 39 In addition to our
analysis, ICE’s bed space procurement study—published in April 2014—
found that at certain SPCs, ICE underutilized facilities with guaranteed
minimums. Therefore ICE could conserve resources by better filling the
capacity above the guaranteed minimum, as it costs ICE less per
detainee to house detainees in these facilities. 40
ICE officials discussed efforts to better ensure cost-effective placement
decisions across field offices. For example, ICE officials stated that they
plan to provide guidance to field offices regarding how to use cost as a
factor in detainee placements, among other considerations. As part of the

38

In fiscal years 2012 and 2013, the guaranteed minimum was 285 beds per day; the ADP
in those years was 253 and 271, respectively.

39

As described above, these costs may not include the full costs of detention at that
facility. ICE ERO Operations Support Division did not have complete data for fiscal year
2011.

40

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of the Chief Financial Officer.
Detention Bed Space Procurement Analysis; Report on ICE Detention Sourcing, April
2014.

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guidance, ERO officials said they will be working with ICE OBPP to
develop and share cost reports and facility utilization reports with field
office management. While ICE’s plan to develop and issue this guidance
is a positive step, as of August 2014, ICE did not have plans to monitor
the extent to which field offices consider and implement cost as a factor in
making detainee placement decisions over time, according to ICE
officials. In particular, ICE’s daily capacity reports are intended to provide
information to ICE personnel regarding bed space availability on a daily
basis. However, ICE ERO does not currently use these reports or other
data to monitor and ensure field offices are appropriately considering cost
in making detainee placement decisions over time. The ICE strategic plan
for fiscal years 2010-2014 notes that to expend government resources
wisely, ICE will work to increase efficiency in every step of the removal
process—from apprehension through removal. Furthermore, Standards
for Internal Control in the Federal Government notes that managers need
to compare actual performance with planned or expected results
throughout the organization and analyze significant differences, and
should monitor the quality of performance over time. 41 Developing an
oversight mechanism to ensure that field offices comply with guidance to
place detainees, whenever possible, in facilities with guaranteed
minimums and tiered pricing could provide ICE with better assurance that
it is cost-effectively managing detainee placement.
Preventing improper payments to detention facility operators. ICE
has taken steps to strengthen internal controls over the process used to
pay contractors for detention services; however, ICE ERO remained
designated as at high risk for making improper payments in fiscal year
2013 by DHS. ICE uses manual internal controls over the process to
review invoices and pay contractors for detention services. Contractors at
all ICE detention facilities are to receive payment for providing detention
services by submitting invoices to ICE for review and payment.
Contractors are to submit summary invoices to the Burlington finance
center and all required invoice support documentation to the contracting
officer representative (COR) at the ICE ERO field office overseeing the
facility. Burlington finance center personnel are to provide an initial review
of the summary invoice to ensure that the necessary contract information
is correctly recorded and if it is, are to notify the COR that the invoice is
available for approval. The COR is then required to review the invoice to

41

GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.

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verify that it accurately reflects work completed in accordance with
requirements in the contract. The COR is also to ensure that all required
supporting documentation is received prior to approving an invoice.
The Improper Payments Information Act (IPIA) of 2002, the Improper
Payments Elimination and Recovery Act (IPERA) of 2010, and the
Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Improvement Act (IPERIA)
of 2012 require agencies to review payments made by their components
in order to identify those susceptible to significant improper payments and
to carry out cost-effective programs for identifying and recovering
overpayments made to contractors. 42 Improper payments are calculated
as the percentage of the total dollar value of payments made in each year
that were improper. 43 For fiscal year 2013, a significant improper payment
was defined as exceeding $10 million of all program or activity payments

42

Pub. L. No. 107-300, 116 Stat. 2350; Pub. L. No. 111-204, 124 Stat. 2224; Pub. L. No.
112-248, 126 Stat. 2390. The term “improper payment” means any payment that should
not have been made or that was made in an incorrect amount under statutory, contractual,
administrative, or other legally applicable requirements and includes any payment to an
ineligible recipient, any payment for an ineligible service, any duplicate payment,
payments for services not received, and any payment that does not account for credit for
applicable discounts. Pub. L. No. 107-300, § 2(d)(2), 116 Stat. at 2351, redesignated as §
2(g)(2) by Pub. L. No. 112-248, § 3(a)(1), 126 Stat. at 2390. OMB Circular A-123
Appendix C, Part 1, Requirements for Effective Measurement and Remediation of
Improper Payments also requires a payment to be considered an improper payment when
an agency’s review is unable to discern whether a payment was proper as a result of
insufficient or lack of documentation.
43

The DHS Office of the Chief Financial Officer Risk Management and Assurance reviews
and approves ICE proposed testing plans and procedures, statistically selects
representative ICE sample points to be tested, and validates ICE testing results through
an independent quality assurance process. In addition, Risk Management and Assurance
calculates the ICE improper payment rate using the DHS-mandated statistical
methodology that stratifies payments by dollar value. Once the ICE improper payment rate
has been identified, the DHS Office of the Chief Financial Officer Risk Management and
Assurance extrapolates the total estimated improper payment amount.

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and 1.5 percent of program payments, or exceeding $100 million alone. 44
IPERIA of 2012 applied these thresholds to fiscal year 2014 and each
fiscal year thereafter. 45
DHS’s annual review of component improper payments has highlighted
that ICE ERO had unacceptable levels of improper payments. 46 ICE ERO
reduced improper payment amounts by nearly half from fiscal year 2011
to 2012, but remains designated as at high-risk for making improper
payments. DHS reported that in fiscal year 2012 testing of fiscal year
2011 payments, ICE ERO made an estimated $133 million in improper
payments (approximately 8 percent of all payments), and fiscal year 2013
testing of fiscal year 2012 payments showed that ICE made an estimated
$73 million in improper payments (approximately 4 percent of all
payments).
ICE has taken several steps to address the primary reasons for improper
payments. ICE’s analysis of the findings revealed that most of ERO’s
improper payments were caused by either unresolved discrepancies
between the invoice and contract documents or that ERO personnel
responsible for invoice approval did not ensure sufficient documentation
had been provided by contractors to support the payment of invoices. To
reduce the improper payment rate, ICE ERO issued requirements aimed
at standardizing the invoice submission and review process across
facilities, and strengthening the process, among other actions. These
requirements include a requirement that facilities provide an itemized list

44

IPIA of 2002 required the head of each agency to identify all programs and activities that
may be susceptible to significant improper payments, and for an improper payment
exceeding $10 million, provide an estimate and a report to Congress. Pub. L. No. 107300, 116 Stat. at 2350. For purposes of fiscal year 2013, IPERA of 2010 amended IPIA to
define a significant improper payment as exceeding $10 million of all program or activity
payments and 1.5 percent of program payments, or exceeding $100 million alone. See
Pub. L. No. 111-204, § 2(a), 112 Stat. at 2224; OMB Circular A-123 Appendix C, Part I.
IPERIA of 2012 did not change the fiscal year 2013 thresholds, but it did, among other
things, direct OMB on an annual basis to identify high-priority federal programs for greater
levels of oversight and review in which the highest dollar value or highest rate of improper
payments occur or for which there is a higher risk of improper payments. See Pub. L. No.
112-248, § 3(a), 126 Stat. at 2390.
45

Pub. L. No. 112-248, § 4, 126 Stat. at 2392.

46

This improper payment rate is for all ICE ERO payments, including payments for
detention facilities services as well as payments for other goods and services, such as
phone service.

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of charges and list contract line items on invoices, among other things.
According to ICE officials, as of September 2013, ICE had updated all
facility contracts with the new requirements, and invoices submitted by
facilities for services in December 2013 and later should meet the new
requirements.
However, our review of a sample of 31 of 158 invoices from 15 facilities
for detention services provided in December 2013 showed that corrective
actions taken by DHS and ICE had not yet fully addressed issues of the
completeness and accuracy of invoices and supporting documentation
submitted by detention contractors. Specifically, our review showed that
13 invoices from 6 facilities did not include all invoice elements required in
ICE’s new guidance. Examples of missing elements included unit prices
for mileage and the contractor’s address. In addition, our analysis showed
that 20 invoices from 11 facilities did not include all required supporting
documentation, as specified in ICE’s new invoice submission and review
guidance. Invoices for transportation charges were the type of invoice that
was most commonly missing supporting documentation. For example,
invoices included the dates detainees were transported, but did not
include elements such as the names of detainees, or the number of
detainees transported.
Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government notes that
control activities should be efficient and effective in accomplishing the
agency’s control objectives, and should occur at all levels of the agency. 47
The standards also note that the responsibility for good internal control
rests with managers, and that management sets the objectives, puts the
control mechanisms in place, and monitors and evaluates the controls. 48
In June 2014, ICE issued a policy manual to provide general instruction
and guidance to CORs in recording the receipt and acceptance of goods
and services, including the processing of contractor invoices, and plans to
further assess the need for additional controls through April 2015. Such
an assessment of internal controls is necessary as ICE ERO has
remained at high risk for improper payments despite issuance of past
guidance. By taking additional steps to help ensure that personnel
responsible for reviewing and paying invoices follow internal control
procedures contained in the new guidance to ensure proper payment,

47

GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.

48

GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.

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and that their actions are appropriately overseen and reviewed by
management, ICE ERO could have better assurance that its detention
management practices are in compliance with relevant laws to safeguard
federal resources for detention services.

ICE Data Indicate
Generally Higher Costs
per Detainee per Day at
ICE-Owned Facilities

Despite the limitations we identified with ICE’s data on facility costs, we
determined—by interviewing officials and checking data for errors—that
data maintained by the ICE ERO Operations Support Division in its
Contract Financial Monitoring File were sufficiently reliable to provide a
general indication of approximate cost ranges across and within facility
types for fiscal year 2013. Our analysis of these data indicated that ICE
generally spent more per detainee per day at ICE-owned SPCs than at
other types of detention facilities. Specifically, our analysis indicated that
while the median expenditure per detainee per day at SPCs was about
$200, these costs were lower at about $120 for CDFs and about $75 for
IGSAs and facilities operated under USMS intergovernmental agreement
(IGA) or contract. 49 Our analysis of these data also indicated that the
range of costs within a facility type was greatest for SPCs than for other
types of facilities. Specifically, our analysis showed that the range
between the lowest- and highest-cost SPC facilities was about $195,
while the range was lower for IGSAs and IGAs (about $110), CDFs
(about $80), and DIGSAs (about $50). 50

49

Furthermore, our analysis indicated that while ICE spent at least $150 per day at 4
SPCs and 1 IGSA, ICE spent less than $150 per detainee per day at all CDFs and
DIGSAs in fiscal year 2013. Our analysis of expenditures at SPCs includes expenditures
associated with the primary detention contract as well as expenditures associated with
ancillary contracts for services like maintenance and food, among others. For the
purposes of this review, we did not include ICE’s family residential facilities in this
analysis, as they serve a unique population and thus provide a unique service compared
with ICE’s other over-72-hour facilities.

50

The approximate lowest and highest costs across facility types were as follows: SPCs—
about $105 to about $300, CDFs—about $70 to about $150, DIGSAs—about $65 to about
$115, and IGSAs/IGAs—about $40 to about $150. For the purposes of our review, IGSAs
include both facilities with which ICE has agreements with the locality and USMS IGAs at
which ICE houses detainees using a rider on a USMS agreement. For six IGSAs, ICE
data do not distinguish costs by individual facilities. For these facilities, we estimated the
cost per detainee per day based on the average daily population in each of the facilities
and the total costs for all facilities associated with the IGSAs associated with each of the
facilities. These IGSAs include only those facilities that were authorized to house
detainees for the full fiscal year 2013. Ten authorized IGSAs holding less than 1percent of
ICE’s ADP in fiscal year 2013 either did not house detainees in fiscal year 2013 or housed
detainees for only part of the year. These facilities are excluded from the analysis.

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ICE officials cited labor costs—which compose approximately 70 percent
of all facility costs—as one of the common reasons for the differences in
the ranges of costs across types of detention facilities. ICE officials stated
that the agency has limited ability to negotiate labor rates in its detention
and ground transportation contracts because they are subject to the
Service Contract Act (SCA) of 1965, which, among other things, specifies
prevailing wages by geographic area. 51 ICE officials stated that as a result
of the SCA’s requirements, facilities that are located in more expensive
areas tend to have higher labor costs.
Factors that influence the amount of labor needed also affect overall
costs at a particular facility, according to ICE officials. For example, a
facility’s design and physical layout affect the number of staff needed to
monitor the facility, and therefore affect older facilities, which usually have
more blind corners and require more staff, according to officials. Other
cost drivers include characteristics of the detainee population held at the
facility, such as a large population with specialized medical needs that
increase staff costs; the distance between the facility and other locations,
such as immigration courts, which affects transportation costs; and the
extent to which there are other nearby facilities that can house
immigration detainees, which can lower costs because of competition,
according to ICE officials.
ICE has taken steps to more specifically identify the reasons for cost
differences across facility types, including hiring a contractor to identify
actions the agency could take to more efficiently manage the
procurement options for dedicated facilities. 52 ICE officials stated that they
51

Every contract, with certain exceptions, entered into by the United States or the District
of Columbia in excess of $2,500, in which the principal purpose is to furnish services
through the use of service employees, is subject to the McNamara-O’Hara Service
Contract Act (SCA). See 41 U.S.C. §§ 6701-6707. The SCA requires contractors and
subcontractors performing services on prime contracts in excess of $2,500 to pay service
employees no less than the wage rates and fringe benefits found prevailing in the locality,
or the rates contained in a predecessor contractor’s collective bargaining agreement. The
Secretary of Labor determines the prevailing wage rate for job classifications in each
locality, which differs by geographic location. Certain types of federal contracts—such as
those for construction, the carriage of freight or personnel, and contracts for public utility
services, among others—are not subject to the SCA.

52

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of the Chief Financial Officer.
Detention Bed Space Procurement Analysis; Report on ICE Detention Sourcing. This
study was funded by ICE and conducted by Deloitte Consulting LLP. It focused on
dedicated facilities because the main purpose was to analyze procurement options for the
SPCs.

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conducted this point-in-time study because understanding costs by facility
is critical to ensuring that detention facilities are managed within budget
and in a cost-effective manner. As part of its assessment of procurement
options, the study identified the following cost drivers for each dedicated
facility type:
•

ICE-owned SPCs. The most prevalent issues the study identified at
all six SPCs included the use of separate service contracts for guards,
food, facility maintenance, and other services, which can increase
overhead costs in contracts, as well as low detainee-to-staff ratios
compared with ratios at other facility types. 53 For example, all six
SPCs were found to have a lower detainee-to-staff ratio than the
national average of 3.1 to 1, with one SPC having a detainee-to-staff
ratio of 1.3 to 1.

•

Privately owned CDFs. The most prevalent issues the study
identified for the seven CDFs included high profit margins for
contracts that do not guarantee a minimum amount of business over a
longer time period, and facility construction costs that are initially
factored into the per diem rate, but are not removed upon completion
of payment for the construction debt. 54 For example, the study found
that at older CDFs, the contractor had already paid off most of the
building costs, but the per diem rate had not decreased despite the
reduced total cost of operations on the part of the contractor,
according to ICE officials.

•

Government- and privately owned DIGSAs. The study noted that
the most prevalent issues for DIGSAs were difficult to determine
because these facilities were unwilling to fully disclose financial
documentation. 55 However, issues at DIGSAs included high profit
margins for contracts that do not guarantee a minimum amount of

53

Other issues at SPCs contributing to higher costs included poor facility design, which
necessitated higher staffing levels (four facilities), location in areas with higher wages,
inefficient use of transportation (four facilities), and a need to consolidate detention bed
capacity among facilities within common operating areas.

54

Other issues at CDFs contributing to higher costs were a need to consolidate detention
bed capacity among facilities within common operating areas and the lack of competition
that drives up prices.

55

The study noted that DIGSA contractors sometimes under staff their facilities, which has
an effect of increasing profit margins at the expense of detainee risk management.

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business over a longer time period. 56 For example, one contractor for
a DIGSA had a profit margin of 20 percent.
•

Government- and privately owned IGSAs. According to officials, the
study did not specifically examine costs at individual IGSAs, but noted
that facility costs at IGSAs may increase in the future when
implementing the 2011 PBNDS—ICE’s most recently implemented
detention standards. The study did not estimate such costs but
presumed that according to interviews with ICE officials and
contractors, implementing the 2011 PBNDS at IGSAs would not be
cost neutral and would require significant contracting action.

ICE Applied Different
Federal Standards
across Facilities but
Has Not Documented
Reasons for the
Differences
ICE Applies the Most
Rigorous Detention
Standards to 15 Percent of
Facilities Housing Over
Half of Detainees

ICE detention standards vary in rigor as defined by the number and
content of standards in place to protect detainees and focus on
performance outcomes. Since 2000, ICE has primarily used three sets of
detention standards—the 2000 NDS, the 2008 PBNDS, and the 2011
PBNDS. 57 In regard to the number of standards, the 2000 NDS contains
38 standards related to aspects of detainee care and services and facility
operation, while the 2008 PBNDS contains 41 standards and the 2011
PBNDS contains 42 standards. These standards are discussed in further
detail in appendix II. ICE has added standards over time to address
issues of heightened concern or to address gaps in procedures. For

56

Another issue at two DIGSAs included a need to consolidate detention bed capacity
among facilities within common operating areas.

57

A fourth set of detention standards—the 2007 Family Residential Standards—pertained
to two facilities in fiscal year 2013. For the purposes of this review, we excluded these
standards from our analysis given that less than 2 percent of ICE’s detainee population
was held in facilities governed by the standards in fiscal year 2013.

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example, ICE added a standard in the 2008 PBNDS to address sexual
abuse and assault, and a standard in the 2011 PBNDS to address
medical care for women. According to ICE ODPP officials, the agency
made enhancements or revisions to 39 of the 42 standards in the 2011
PBNDS, such as in the areas of medical and mental health care. In
regard to the content of standards, ICE noted certain additional
requirements that were applicable to a different extent across facility
types. For example, under the NDS and 2008 PBNDS, ICE requires ICEowned SPCs and privately owned CDFs to conform to these additional
requirements, while ICE states that government- or privately owned
DIGSAs and IGSAs may adopt, adapt, or develop alternatives to the
procedures provided they meet or exceed the intent represented by the
additional requirements. Appendix III provides more detailed information
on the additional requirements that SPCs and CDFs are required to
follow. ICE officials said that under the 2011 PBNDS, some of these more
substantive requirements became applicable to all facilities and ICE also
introduced a new concept of optimal provisions that agency officials
characterize as more stringent than the mandatory provisions, and
therefore contractors may choose to adopt the optimal provisions
voluntarily. While these optimal provisions are voluntary, ICE states that
facility implementation of these provisions would further effective facility
operation at the level intended by ICE under the revised standards.
Appendix IV provides additional information on optimal provisions and an
example. Finally, in regard to the focus of the standards, ICE officials
explained that the 2008 PBNDS and 2011 PBNDS shifted language from
expressing what is to be done under the required policies and procedures
to focus on the results or outcomes the required procedures are expected
to accomplish; they also provide a higher level of procedural detail than
the 2000 NDS. ICE officials stated that the expected outcomes each
standard is intended to produce are stated, rather than assumed, and the
prescribed expected practices represent what is to be done to accomplish
those expected outcomes. For example, while both the NDS and PBNDS
include policies and procedures related to medical care, the 2000 NDS
states that facilities “must have a procedure in place” to ensure that
medical staff are alerted to health care requests in a timely manner, while
the 2008 PBNDS states that health care needs “will be met in a timely
and efficient manner,” and that each facility shall have a procedure to
ensure that sick call requests are “received and triaged by appropriate
medical personnel within 48 hours.”
According to ICE officials, ICE is to specify in each facility’s contract or
agreement the standards to which the facility is to be held. Our analysis of
ICE documents, however, showed that in fiscal year 2013, ERO held 3

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(2.5 percent) of the 118 facilities that had the 2000 NDS or nonfederal
standards cited in the contract or agreement to the more rigorous 2008
PBNDS during the inspection process. 58 For facilities operating under a
contract that cites the NDS, ERO officials stated that field officials
responsible for overseeing the facilities, or the administrators operating
the facilities, may decide to inspect them to the 2008 PBNDS if the
officials judge that the facilities are able to meet the more rigorous
requirements, and the facilities agree to this practice, or if the facilities
themselves ask to be held to more rigorous standards. An ICE official
responsible for detention policy explained that ERO inspecting a facility to
more rigorous standards than those cited in the facility’s contract or
agreement can be beneficial to ICE and detainees because it permits the
agency to hold facilities accountable for more rigorous requirements.
According to this official, it can be more efficient and cost-effective for ICE
to ensure that facilities adhere to more rigorous standards through the
inspection process rather than modifying the facilities’ contracts or
agreements to include the more rigorous standards because, for
example, facility contractors may request to open negotiations for the
entire contract, which could be a time-consuming process, as well as
request additional funding from ICE for the change in contract terms. For
example, inspecting a facility to the 2008 PBNDS when the facility
contract cites the 2000 NDS standards allows ERO to hold the facility
accountable to standards for sexual abuse and assault prevention and
intervention that would not be required of the facility if it was inspected
under the 2000 NDS, which do not include those provisions.
ICE officials reported that as of January 2014, 20 of the 22 facilities that
exclusively house ICE detainees—SPCs, CDFs, and DIGSAs—as well as
5 IGSAs, were held to the most recent and rigorous 2011 PBNDS. In
fiscal year 2013, ICE housed approximately 54 percent of its ADP in
these 25 facilities. Fourteen of the remaining 141 IGSA facilities—or
approximately 16 percent of ADP—are held to the 2008 PBNDS, while
the remaining 125 IGSA facilities—or 28 percent of ADP—that house ICE
detainees along with other populations are held to 2000 NDS (see fig.3). 59

58

With respect to the nonfederal standards, ICE officials explained that facility contracts
and agreements that were signed before the 2000 NDS were implemented usually specify
that contractors are to be held to state, local, or “other” standards. ICE officials said that in
such cases, the facilities are generally inspected to the 2000 NDS.
59

These numbers and percentages exclude two family residential facilities that were held
to the 2007 Family Residential Standards in fiscal year 2013.

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Furthermore, ODPP officials stated that a number of facilities, regardless
of whether they have been updated to the 2011 PBNDS, have voluntarily
adopted the Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention and Intervention
standard of the 2011 PBNDS, which requires, among other things, that
written sexual abuse and assault prevention and intervention policies and
procedures include components beyond those of the 2008 PBNDS, such
as a statement of a zero tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse or
assault. 60
Figure 3: Detention Standards and Average Daily Population (ADP) by Facility Type, Fiscal Year 2013

Note: Two facilities—one nondedicated IGSA and one dedicated IGSA—not included in this figure
were held to the 2007 Family Residential Standards in fiscal year 2013 and housed less than 2
percent of the ADP.

60

The sexual abuse and assault prevention and intervention provisions for the 2011
PBNDS address the same topical areas as the 2008 PBNDS and are similarly intended to
apply to adult facilities. However, the 2011 PBNDS include additional requirements, such
as broader requirements within the topical areas, such as that intergovernmental service
agreement facilities designate a sexual abuse and assault prevention and intervention
coordinator rather than only ICE-owned SPCs and privately owned CDFs. See GAO,
Immigration Detention: Additional Actions Could Strengthen DHS Efforts to Address
Sexual Abuse, GAO-14-38 (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 20, 2013), for more information on
how sexual abuse and assault provisions are addressed in detention facility standards.

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As of April 2014, ICE officials said that they were in the process of
requesting that additional facilities authorized to hold detainees for 72
hours or longer implement the most recent 2011 PBNDS, and
documenting that change in facility contracts. Specifically, ICE officials
stated that they planned to request that all such facilities with an ADP of
150 detainees or greater adopt the 2011 PBNDS by the end of fiscal year
2014. 61 If implemented, this would increase the number of facilities held to
the 2011 PBNDS from 25 to 61 facilities, or from 54 percent to 89 percent
of the ADP. According to ICE officials, implementing the 2011 PBNDS
has taken longer than anticipated. In April 2012, ICE disseminated an
implementation plan to dedicated facilities requesting that they adopt the
2011 PBNDS over a staggered 6-month period. 62 According to ODPP
officials, ICE reached out to dedicated facilities first because they house
the greatest population of detainees and because any increased costs
would be spread across the entire population of the facility. 63 ODPP
officials said that ICE did not meet the plan’s original milestones because
most facility contractors submitted extensive questions about the new
standards and then requested that ICE modify their contract or agreement
to include higher per diem rates to cover estimated costs of complying
with the higher standards. ICE’s attempts to minimize the potential
increased costs associated with adopting the newer standards required
lengthy negotiations with facilities to arrive at cost-neutral contracts. 64 In
the case of nondedicated facilities that house fewer ICE detainees, ICE
officials said it may not be cost-effective for the agency to negotiate with
the facility contractors to increase standards for relatively few detainees
who are held in detention or are held for short periods of time. For
example, in fiscal year 2013, 46 facilities housed fewer than 10 detainees
during the year, and the time these detainees spent in detention averaged
less than 14 days. In addition, some facilities may be limited in their ability
61

All 6 SPCs, 7 CDFs, and 9 DIGSAs had an average ADP of 150 or greater in fiscal year
2013; 39 nondedicated IGSAs and IGAs had an average ADP of 150 or greater in fiscal
year 2013. According to ICE ODPP officials, the type and size of facilities that ICE may
ask to adopt the 2011 PBNDS are subject to change.

62

Facilities were given 3 months from the respective contract modification deadline to
come into full compliance with the 2011 PBNDS.

63
ODPP officials said that during this time, they also pursued 2011 PBNDS
implementation opportunities at nondedicated facilities, with an initial focus on facilities
housing larger numbers of detainees.
64

We previously reported that not all ICE facilities are bound to the most recent detention
standards because of resource considerations. See GAO-14-38.

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to comply with higher standards because of reasons such as space
limitations. For example, the 2011 PBNDS require that detainees in
administrative segregation receive at least 1 hour of daily exercise
opportunities outside of the living area, but according to ICE officials,
some facilities that house ICE detainees may not have space to expand
the opportunities for outdoor recreation. 65

ICE Did Not Have
Documentation for
Reasons Why Standards
Vary across Facilities

ICE has not documented the reasons for using different standards across
facilities or why the 125 facilities under 2000 NDS as of January 2014 had
not been transitioned to the 2011 PBNDS. ICE officials said that reasons
different standards were used across facilities include cost issues as well
as facilities’ ability to comply with recent standards. 66 These officials also
stated that agency implementation plans for progressively adopting the
2008 and 2011 PBNDS across certain facilities served to document the
agency’s rationale for using different standards across facilities. However,
while these plans documented which facilities were to receive requests to
adopt the newer standards, they do not document the reasons why these
facilities were chosen or why remaining facilities cannot be transitioned to
the most recent standards. For example, the implementation plan for the
2011 PBNDS did not explain why some smaller—in terms of facility type
and ADP—facilities that were not listed in the plan were transferred to the
2011 PBNDS, while other, similar facilities not included in the plan were
not transferred to the newer standards.
ICE officials said that in certain instances, detention facilities can have
standards waived after a review and approval by ICE. Specifically, the
agency may choose to waive certain detention requirements for a facility
if the contractor can comply with all but a specific detention standard,
such as the 2011 PBNDS standard for outdoor recreation, which
describes detainees’ access to exercise and recreation activities within
65

The 2011PBNDS define administrative segregation as a nonpunitive form of separation
from the general detention population used for administrative reasons. Administrative
segregation may be available, among other reasons, for detainees awaiting investigations
or hearings for violations of facility rules; detainees scheduled for release within 24 hours;
and, under more limited circumstances, detainees who require protective custody or
separation from the general population for medical reasons.

66

An ICE-contracted study on detention bed space acquisition management reported that
implementing 2011 PBNDS at IGSAs would not be cost-neutral and would require
significant contracting action, reporting in April 2014 that only 29 of 191 facilities had met
the newest standards.

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the appropriate security restraints. These officials said that waivers are
granted infrequently and usually only after ICE has (1) reviewed the
facility contractor’s request, (2) worked with the facility contractor to
identify a work-around solution that would allow the facility to comply with
the standard, and (3) confirmed that the facility has a “better than
acceptable” process in place that meets the intent of the standard even if
it does not meet the strict letter of the standard. According to ICE ERO,
as of August 2014, waivers were in effect for 41 standard components—
the line items that compose the standards—across 35 facilities; these
waivers were approved from fiscal year 2012 through August 2014. 67 Our
analysis of these waivers showed that 22 (54 percent) of the waivers are
related to a component of the environmental health and safety standard,
which requires facilities to, among other things, maintain a dedicated
barbering space and test power generators every 2 weeks. For example,
one facility lacks a separate barbering facility and has collocated
barbering services in a multipurpose room that is also used for dental
appointments. Another 6 (15 percent) of the 41 waivers relate to a
component of the key and lock standard, which requires facilities to
ensure that an on-site security officer completes locksmith training. In
these instances, facilities have agreed to use a contractor to install and
repair locks because they say training a security officer to perform that
function would be too expensive. The remaining 13 waivers address a
variety of other standards. 68 According to ERO officials, copies of
approved waivers are provided to the facility contractor and to the ICE
ERO field office that oversees the facility; copies are also to be provided
to ODO officials upon request.
Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government specifies that all
transactions and other significant events should be clearly documented
and the documentation should be readily available for review. According
to ICE officials, implementation of the 2011 PBNDS at facilities with an
ADP of fewer than 150 is to be conducted on a case-by-case basis.
However, ICE ERO was not able to provide documentation of the reasons
it decided to implement the 2008 or 2011 PBNDS at some of these

67

Of these 41 waivers, 22 were approved in fiscal year 2012, 12 in fiscal year 2013, and 7
in fiscal year 2014.

68

These waivers addressed, among other things, components in the following standards:
Personal Hygiene, Hold Rooms in Detention Facilities, Facility Security and Control, and
Special Management Unit Security Measures.

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facilities while keeping other facilities at the older, less rigorous 2000 NDS
or 2008 PBNDS. A senior ICE official stated that ICE relies on institutional
knowledge within the agency to track reasons for assigning certain
standards to individual facilities. For example, our analysis identified 1
facility that reverted to 2008 PBNDS after attempting to adopt the higher
2011 PBNDS; ICE officials stated that the rationale for this decision had
not been documented. 69 Documenting reasons why facilities cannot be
transitioned to the most recent standards could help strengthen ICE’s
ability to oversee facilities’ compliance with detention standards and could
provide an institutional record of decisions ICE has made about why
facilities are held or not held to certain standards.

ICE Uses More
Oversight
Mechanisms at
Facilities with
Greater Detainee
Populations, with
Some Inconsistencies
in Results across Key
Mechanisms
Amount of ICE Oversight
Is Driven by Detainee
Population and Resources

ICE uses four mechanisms for assessing facilities’ compliance with
detention standards: (1) annual or biennial inspections conducted by an
ERO contractor, (2) annual self-inspections conducted by facility staff
under ERO’s Operational Review Self-Assessment (ORSA) process, (3)
periodic compliance inspections of selected facilities by ODO personnel,
and (4) on-site monitoring provided by an ERO detention service
manager (DSM). 70 ICE officials responsible for detention oversight stated
69

ICE later identified an official who explained that the contractor had asked that the
facility be inspected to the 2011 PBNDS, and when it did not pass the inspection, ICE
moved the facility back to the 2008 PBNDS.

70

ERO allows self-inspections at certain facilities that maintain an ADP of less than 10
detainees.

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that these different oversight mechanisms complement one another and
serve different purposes. ERO inspections are to assess compliance with
all applicable detention standards at each facility. Likewise, selfinspections, which apply to more than half of the smallest IGSAs and
IGAs—generally those with an ADP of fewer than 10 detainees—cover
key components of the detention standards. ODO is to conduct in-depth
compliance inspections that focus on certain standards and facilities
selected through a risk-based approach. 71 DSMs are to monitor facility
adherence to ICE’s detention standards on a day-to-day basis and
provide facilities with technical guidance, including guidance advising how
to implement corrective action plans, as needed.
Our analysis of ICE oversight programs conducted in fiscal year 2013
showed that ICE applied varying types of oversight mechanisms at its
detention facilities, with facilities having larger and dedicated detainee
populations generally having more types of oversight mechanisms than
facilities with small detainee populations. Specifically, in fiscal year 2013,
ICE generally employed more types of oversight mechanisms at ICEowned SPCs and IGSAs with dedicated and large detainee populations
than at privately owned CDFs or at IGSAs and IGAs with small ICE
detainee populations, as shown in figure 4. 72 For example, all of the six
SPCs were subject to continuous on-site monitoring, five received
comprehensive ERO inspections, and three received an in-depth ODO
compliance inspection during the year. 73 Of the seven privately owned
CDFs, all seven received ERO inspections, six were subject to on-site

71

ODO officials stated that ODO selects the facilities it inspects using a risk-based model
that uses deficiencies identified in ERO’s annual inspections, number and type of
allegations, deficiencies identified in prior ODO inspections, average daily detention
population, and the date of the last ODO inspection at a facility.

72

Five medium IGSA and USMS IGA facilities (1 percent)—ranging in average daily
population from 69 to 137—had on-site monitors during fiscal year 2013 and are excluded
from this analysis.

73

The SPC that did not receive an ERO inspection in fiscal year 2013 was transitioning
from the 2008 to the 2011 PBNDS and requested additional time to prepare for an
inspection under the 2011 PBNDS.

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monitoring, 74 and none received an ODO compliance inspection. 75 ICE
typically applied fewer types of oversight mechanisms at facilities with
small detainee populations—generally less than 10 ADP—where more
than half received oversight in the form of a self-inspection and about a
third were inspected by ERO. These small facilities were not subject to
ODO compliance inspections and did not have DSMs. Eighteen facilities
that housed about 1 percent of total ADP in fiscal year 2013 were not
subject to any of the four types of oversight mechanisms. ICE officials
attributed this to various reasons, such as ICE not holding detainees in
the facility during the year, ICE deciding to no longer use the facility, and
the fact that some facilities met the criteria for biennial review and
therefore they were not inspected in fiscal year 2013 (their next
scheduled inspection was in fiscal year 2014). 76

74

ICE ERO reported in August 2014 that a DSM had been hired for the seventh CDF.

75

ODO officials stated that ODO conducts compliance inspections of CDFs; however, the
frequency with which CDFs are inspected is dependent on the outcome of ODO’s riskbased methodology and the date of a CDF’s last inspection. The result is that all CDFs are
inspected over a 2- to 3-year cycle.
76

Of the 18 facilities that did not receive any of the four types of ICE oversight
mechanisms during fiscal year 2013, 8 were IGSAs with ADPs ranging from about 17 to
about 77 detainees, and 10 were USMS IGAs with ADPs ranging from 0 to 28 detainees.

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Figure 4: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Oversight Mechanisms
Used at Detention Facilities in Fiscal Year 2013, by Facility Type

Note: According to ICE officials, during fiscal year 2013, a DSM position at one CDF was vacant for
part of the fiscal year. These officials reported that as of August 2014, the vacant position had been
filled and all CDFs had a DSM.

ICE ERO officials stated that the agency determines which ERO oversight
mechanisms are to be used at facilities primarily based on the size of the
facility—total detainee population—and available resources, among other
factors. For example, facilities that have an ADP of between 10 and 50
are inspected by a contractor on an annual basis, or a biennial basis if
their past two inspections were satisfactory. 77 Because of time and
77

ERO selected 34 facilities for biennial inspection in fiscal year 2013.

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resource concerns, facilities that have an ADP of fewer than 10 may not
be inspected by ERO, but are required to perform self-inspections on an
annual basis and report the results of the inspections to ERO. According
to ERO officials, DSMs are to monitor facility conditions on a day-to-day
basis. 78 However, ERO officials also stated that ERO generally reserves
on-site monitoring for facilities with large populations of 100 or more
detainees and that resource constraints currently limit further expansion
of the program. According to ODO officials, resource constraints also limit
the number of facilities ODO can inspect on an annual basis.
Our analysis of the number of detainees confined in facilities where ICE
used varying oversight mechanisms showed that in fiscal year 2013,
nearly all ICE detainees were housed in facilities that were subject to at
least one form of oversight. Further, in fiscal year 2013, the majority of
detainees—94 percent of ICE’s average daily population—were in
facilities that received an annual ERO inspection—and continuous on-site
monitoring by a DSM—78 percent of ICE’s average daily population—as
shown in figure 5. About 40 percent of ICE’s average daily population of
detainees were held in facilities that received an in-depth ODO
compliance inspection in fiscal year 2013. A small minority of detainees—
about 1 percent of ICE’s average daily population—was housed in
facilities that conducted a self-inspection. Additionally, less than 1 percent
of the average daily population was not subject to any of these oversight
mechanisms during fiscal year 2013.

78

The inspection contractor previously provided on-site monitoring at detention facilities;
however, resource considerations led ICE to take back this role in the form of the DSM
program. As of April 2014, ICE had 40 DSMs covering 52 facilities. ICE officials said they
hope to expand the DSM program and bring on an additional 18 DSMs to eventually cover
about 90 percent of the detained population. However, expansion plans are on hold
because of budget constraints.

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Figure 5: Percentage of Fiscal Year 2013 Average Daily Population in Detention
Facilities Covered by Type of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Oversight Mechanism

ICE Has Not Assessed
Reasons for
Inconsistencies in Facility
Inspection Results

ERO and ODO conducted inspections at many of the same facilities, but
collectively their inspections showed different results in fiscal year 2013.
Specifically, our analysis of ICE inspection results showed that ERO and
ODO included 35 of the same facilities in their inspections conducted
during fiscal year 2013, and in 29 of these inspections, ODO found more

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

deficiencies than ERO across facility types (see table 3). 79 Collectively,
for those 35 facilities, ODO identified 448 deficiencies and ERO identified
343 deficiencies. For these facilities inspected under the 2000 NDS and
the 2008 and 2011 PBNDS, these deficiencies represented failure to
comply with one or more components that constitute a detention
standard, but not failure to comply with the overall standard. 80
Table 3: Number of Deficiencies Identified by Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) and Office of Detention Oversight
(ODO) Inspections in Fiscal Year 2013, by Facility Type
Number of facilities
inspected by both
ERO and ODO in
fiscal year 2013
Facility type

Number of deficiencies identified by ERO
and ODO
ERO

ODO

Service processing center

3

8

17

Contract detention facility

0

N/A

N/A

Dedicated intergovernmental service agreement

4

13

19

Intergovernmental service agreement and intergovernmental agreement

28

322

412

Total

35

343

448

Source: GAO analysis of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data. | GAO-15-153

For the 35 facilities at which both ICE ERO and ODO conducted an
inspection in fiscal year 2013, in some cases ERO and ODO found
different facility deficiencies within the same standards. This included

79

ODO did not inspect CDFs in fiscal year 2013. In 4 of the 35 instances in which a facility
was inspected by both ERO and ODO, ERO identified a greater number of deficiencies
than ODO, and in 2 instances the inspection results were identical (either an equal
number of deficiencies or no deficiencies). In each of these 35 instances, ERO and ODO
assessed facilities against the same set of standards (the 2000 NDS, 2008 PBNDS, or
2011 PBNDS, as applicable).

80

ICE ERO has designated certain component standards in the checklist it uses to inspect
facilities against the 2008 and 2011 PBNDS as “priority components.” The 2008 and 2011
PBNDS inspection checklists identify 100 and 111 priority components, respectively.
According to ICE ERO officials, priority components represent areas—usually health,
security, and safety issues—that are of critical importance. Failure of any 5 priority
components, or 3 priority components within the same standard, results in a failed
inspection. ERO officials said the contractor who performs annual and biennial inspections
is to immediately notify ERO if a deficiency in a priority component is identified. According
to ERO officials, ICE began using priority components in its inspections in March 2013.

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

three standards that ICE has determined are some of the highest-priority
standards, because they have a high potential for adverse effects:
Medical Care, Special Management Units, and Use of Force. 81 For
example:
•

Medical Care. ICE ERO and ODO inspection reports differed in the
extent to which they found deficiencies in medical care for the same
facilities, including facility inspection reports in which only ERO found
deficiencies, facility reports in which only ODO found deficiencies, and
reports in which both ERO and ODO found deficiencies but the
specific deficiencies differed. For example, at one IGSA, ODO found
that the facility was not properly safeguarding detainee medical
information, as all facility staff had access to each detainee’s medical
intake form. At this same facility, ICE ERO did not find any
deficiencies related to medical care.

•

Special Management Units. ERO and ODO inspection reports
differed in the extent to which they identified deficiencies pertaining to
special management unit standards. For example, at one facility, ERO
found the facility deficient in most elements of the special
management unit standard, as the facility did not have a special
management unit. ODO noted that the facility did not operate a
special management unit and therefore did not report the absence as
a deficiency. At another facility, ODO reported that the facility’s
policies and procedures did not require the facility administrator to
consult with ERO’s Detention Management Division prior to approving
the placement of an individual in a special management unit cell,
which would provide ERO an opportunity to consult with DHS or ICE
legal counsel as required by the standard. At that same facility, an
ERO inspection found that the facility met all components of the
special management unit standard.

•

Use of Force. ODO and ERO inspections both found deficiencies
related to the use of force standard. For example, at one facility, ODO
found two deficiencies in the standard: (1) the facility had no
procedures established for after-action reviews of use of force
incidents, and (2) facility policy did not require calculated use of force
incidents to be video-recorded, as required by the standards. At this

81

Special management units are areas of facilities designed to segregate detainees from
the general population for administrative or disciplinary reasons.

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same facility, ERO found one use of force deficiency—staff were not
trained in use of force team techniques, as required.
ICE officials told us they have not assessed the extent to which ODO
compliance inspection results showed a greater number of deficiencies at
facilities in fiscal year 2013, or the extent to which ERO contract
inspections have the capacity to fully capture deficiencies in facilities’
compliance with relevant detention standards. However, ICE officials
cited several reasons as to why ERO and ODO inspection results may
differ across facilities: 82
•

Timing of inspections. According to ICE officials, between
inspections, facilities may resolve previously identified deficiencies or
may incur new ones. In fiscal year 2013, ERO and ODO inspections
at the 35 facilities ranged from less than 1 to 10 months apart.

•

Coverage and depth of inspections. According to an ICE official,
ODO’s in-depth compliance inspections are more likely to identify a
greater number of deficiencies. For example, in reviewing the medical
care standard, ERO inspectors may select 10 files to review to
determine if a facility is following policies and procedures. ODO may
check 50 files to assess overall compliance and may look beyond the
standards and inspection checklist requirements addressed by ERO
to address any quality of care concerns that have been raised.

•

Reporting of results. According to ICE officials, differences in ERO
and ODO reporting styles can make it difficult to assess the extent to
which inspection results differ. ERO’s contracted inspector uses a
checklist to identify deficiencies in the components that compose the
standards, and determine whether the number of deficient
components rises to the level of a deficiency in standards. ODO does
not use a checklist and reports its findings in a narrative descriptive
report and identifies deficiencies in components but does not assess
whether these deficiencies meet the threshold of a deficient standard.
For example, if the ICE ERO inspection sheet does not include a
component directly related to a particular part of the standard, ODO
may cite a deficiency that ERO may not find or identify.

82
While ERO and ODO inspections both review facilities’ compliance with detention
standards, ODO can also evaluate issues that are outside the standards, such as issues
of high priority or interest to ICE management.

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

Given the different purposes of ODO and ERO inspections, it is
reasonable to expect in some cases the respective findings differ,
according to differences in the depth and scope of the inspections.
However, without assessing why these differences occur, ICE is not well
positioned to determine the extent to which the oversight mechanisms are
functioning as intended. Moreover, Standards for Internal Control in the
Federal Government calls for operational information to be recorded and
communicated to management and others within the entity so that the
entity can determine whether compliance requirements are being met. In
addition, management is to ensure there is adequate and effective
communication between internal and external stakeholders to help ensure
appropriate decisions are made based on reliable and relevant
information. 83
ICE officials stated that ERO and ODO have not discussed differences in
their inspection findings and have not addressed broader issues of why
ERO and ODO inspection results differed across almost all inspections
conducted at the same facilities within fiscal year 2013, or to what extent
oversight mechanisms are functioning as intended. Assessing the
underlying reasons why ERO and ODO inspection results may differ, and
the extent to which these differences may reflect broader issues, could
help ICE ensure that inspection mechanisms are working as intended and
the extent to which any changes may be needed to ensure safe, secure,
and humane confinement.

Conclusions

As the number of aliens in detention facilities has dramatically increased
over the past decade, so too have the associated costs of maintaining
and operating what is now the nation’s largest civil detention system. ICE
has recently taken steps to assess the primary drivers of facility costs by
types of facilities while continuing to improve confinement standards and
maintain a robust oversight program. However, ICE faces challenges in
the extent to which it can use its financial management system—including
manual work-arounds—to reliably identify and compare facility costs, a
fundamental aspect of effectively estimating and controlling the cost of
operations. Assessing and developing additional internal controls over the
management of facility cost data could help ensure that the mechanisms
ICE has in place, or is developing, to identify facility costs are accurate

83

GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.

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and reliable, and provide ICE with more reliable data to effectively
manage detention costs. Similarly, while we recognize that ICE faces
competing priorities in determining detainee placement, developing an
oversight mechanism to ensure that field offices comply with guidance to
appropriately consider costs in making detainee placement decisions
could help ensure that the agency is effectively managing the costs of
housing detainees. Moreover, although ICE has taken steps to reduce the
improper payment rate for facility contractors, taking additional steps to
ensure that responsible personnel follow internal control procedures to
ensure contractor payments are accurate and properly supported could
provide additional assurance that ICE’s detention management practices
comply with relevant laws and are effectively protecting federal resources.
As it seeks to more efficiently manage facility costs, ICE is also in the
process of applying more rigorous detention standards to generally larger
detention facilities. Documenting the reasons why remaining facilities are
not held to the new standards could provide the agency with an
institutional record and enhance the transparency and accountability of
the agency’s process for managing detention facilities.
Finally, identifying the underlying reasons why inspections conducted by
ERO and ODO for the same facilities may result in different findings could
help ICE better ensure that oversight mechanisms are working as
intended and inspection results are accurately reflecting facilities’
compliance with relevant standards.

Recommendations for
Executive Action

To enhance ICE’s ability to analyze and manage detention facility costs,
ensure transparency and accountability in the management of detention
facilities, and strengthen the oversight mechanisms that ensure detention
facilities provide safe, secure, and humane confinement, we recommend
that the Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement take the
following five actions:
•

assess the extent to which ICE has appropriate internal controls for
tracking and managing detention facility costs and develop additional
controls as necessary;

•

develop an oversight mechanism to ensure that field offices comply
with guidance to appropriately consider costs in making detainee
placement decisions;

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

Agency Comments
and Our Evaluation

•

take additional steps to help ensure that personnel responsible for
reviewing and paying facility detention invoices follow internal control
procedures to ensure proper payments;

•

document the reasons facilities cannot be transitioned to the most
recent standards; and

•

review reasons for differences between ERO and ODO inspection
results and assess the extent to which differences reflect broader
issues with the inspection mechanisms themselves to help ensure the
mechanisms are working as intended.

We provided a draft of this report to DHS and DOJ for their review and
comment. In an e-mail from DOJ’s Audit Liaison on September 10, 2014,
DOJ indicated that it did not have any comments on the draft report. DHS
provided written comments, which are summarized below and reproduced
in full in appendix V, and technical comments, which we incorporated as
appropriate. DHS concurred with four of the five recommendations in the
report and described actions underway or planned to address them. DHS
did not concur with one recommendation in the report.
With regard to the first recommendation, that ICE assess the extent to
which ICE has appropriate internal controls for tracking and managing
detention facilities costs and develop additional controls as necessary,
DHS concurred and stated that the ICE Office of the Chief Financial
Officer developed enhanced financial coding to identify expenditures by
individual detention centers and began collecting data in fiscal year 2014.
DHS stated that ICE will monitor expenditures to determine proper
allocation, future funding requirements, and if additional internal controls
are required. DHS provided an estimated completion date of September
30, 2015. These planned actions, if fully implemented, should address the
intent of the recommendation.
With regard to the second recommendation, that ICE develop an
oversight mechanism to ensure that field offices comply with guidance to
appropriately consider costs in making detainee placement decisions,
DHS concurred and stated that ICE ERO will develop such an oversight
mechanism using the Self-Inspection Program. DHS provided an
estimated completion date of September 30, 2015. To the extent that the
Self-Inspection Program provides ICE with oversight of field office
compliance with the guidance, these planned actions, if fully
implemented, should address the intent of the recommendation.

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With regard to the third recommendation, that ICE take additional steps to
help ensure that personnel responsible for reviewing and paying facility
detention invoices follow internal control procedures to ensure proper
payments, DHS concurred. DHS stated that ICE had issued a new policy
applicable to all program offices and will assess if additional internal
controls are required and implement any needed ones, as appropriate.
DHS estimated a completion date of April 30, 2015. To the extent that
ICE assesses the status and need for internal controls necessary to
ensure personnel compliance with the policies to ensure proper
payments, these planned actions, if fully implemented, should address
the intent of the recommendation.
With regard to the fourth recommendation, that ICE document the
reasons facilities cannot be transitioned to the most recent standards,
DHS did not concur. DHS stated that ICE believed it had already
appropriately documented the rationale for the decisions made in the
course of implementing PBNDS 2011 and that additional documentation
is not necessary in this regard. DHS stated that it established and
followed an implementation plan for transitioning facilities to PBNDS 2011
first focusing on dedicated facilities, to be followed by non-dedicated
intergovernmental service agreement facilities with an average daily
population of 150 or greater and that on an ongoing basis, has been
making efforts to incorporate PBNDS 2011 into facility agreements as
contracting opportunities arise. DHS stated that the implementation
process was labor-intensive and time-consuming, and ICE made an
assessment of which facilities represent priorities for transitioning to
PBNDS 2011 given the limits on agency personnel and resources, and in
recognition of the fact that not all 250 facilities could be transitioned at
once, or quite possibly, compelled to transition at all. DHS stated that our
findings and recommendation appeared to presume PBNDS 2011 as a
starting point for all detention facilities, with ICE making decisions on a
case-by-case basis whether to make an exception and deviate from that
norm. DHS noted that as ICE does not have the authority to unilaterally
impose new detention standards upon facilities, it can only request that a
facility adopt the new standards with the facility retaining the right to
refuse implementation or to request additional funds as a condition of
compliance.
We continue to believe that ICE should document the reasons why
individual facilities cannot be transitioned to the most recent standards. In
our report, we noted that ICE makes requests to facilities to adopt new
standards and that facilities’ adoption of new standards may involve
contract negotiations between ICE and the facilities. For example, in our
report, we noted that ICE has attempted to minimize the potential

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

increased costs associated with adopting the newer standards and that
these attempts have required lengthy negotiations with facilities to arrive
at cost-neutral contracts. Further, as noted in our report, ICE’s
implementation plan discusses priorities for transitioning facilities to the
2011 PBNDS. In its comments to our draft report, DHS discussed the
reasons why some smaller (less than 150 ADP) nondedicated facilities
have been transitioned to the 2011 PBNDS—these facilities were
transitioned because their contracts had come up for renegotiation of the
per diem rate—however, the 2011 PBNDS implementation plan did not
document these reasons or why remaining facilities cannot be
transitioned to the most recent standards. For example, the
implementation plan for the 2011 PBNDS did not explain why some
smaller facilities that were not listed in the plan were transferred to the
2011 PBNDS, while other, similar facilities not included in the plan were
not transferred to the newer standards. Specifically, the plan did not
discuss why the 125 individual facilities under 2000 NDS as of January
2014 were not transitioned to 2011 PBNDS. Documenting reasons why
facilities cannot be transitioned to the most recent standards would help
strengthen ICE oversight of facility detention standards and provide an
institutional record of decisions ICE has made about why facilities are
held or not held to certain standards. It would also provide more
transparency and accountability to facility contractors and to the public
regarding ICE management decisions that result in different standards of
care for detainees across facilities.
With regard to the fifth recommendation, that ICE review reasons for
differences between ERO and Office of Detention Oversight inspection
results and assess the extent to which differences reflect broader issues
with the inspection mechanisms to ensure the mechanisms are working
as intended, DHS concurred. DHS estimated that ERO and ODO would
complete such action by March 30, 2015, and stated that it was important
to note that ODO must maintain independent oversight authority when
conducting inspections, and that any proposed changes must be
reviewed by senior ICE leadership prior to implementation, as
appropriate. This planned action, if effectively implemented, should
address the intent of the recommendation.

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

We are sending copies of this report to the appropriate congressional
committees, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General of
the United States, and other interested parties. In addition, the report is
available at no charge on the GAO website at http://www.gao.gov.
If you or your staff have any questions, please contact me at (202) 5128777 or gamblerr@gao.gov. Contact points for our Offices of
Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the last page
of this report. GAO staff who made significant contributions to this report
are listed in appendix VI.

Rebecca Gambler
Director
Homeland Security and Justice

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

List of Requesters
The Honorable Bennie G. Thompson
Ranking Member
Committee on Homeland Security
House of Representatives
The Honorable Suzan DelBene
House of Representatives
The Honorable Adam Smith
House of Representatives
The Honorable Juan Vargas
House of Representatives

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology

This report addresses the following three objectives:
1. How do federal costs compare across different types of immigration
detention facilities, and to what extent does Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) have processes to track and manage these costs?
2. To what extent do the federal standards that govern conditions of
confinement vary across different types of immigration detention
facilities, and what are the reasons for any differences.
3. To what extent do federal oversight and the results of that oversight
vary across different types of immigration facilities?
In this report, we assessed the costs to the federal government of
housing ICE detainees at different types of facilities, the federal standards
that govern confinement conditions at those facilities, and ICE oversight
mechanisms for ensuring compliance with these standards. The
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines an immigration
detention facility as a confinement facility operated by or affiliated with
ICE that routinely holds persons for over 24 hours. However, of the 251
facilities authorized by ICE to hold detainees as of August 2013, we
limited our analysis to the 166 facilities that were designated to hold
detainees for 72 hours or longer because of the frequent turnover in the
detainee population at short-term facilities—such as holding facilities—
which temporarily house detainees waiting for ICE transfer. 1 These 166
facilities also exclude three federal prisons where ICE had detention bed
space in fiscal year 2013; two of the prisons housed a few detainees and
the third prison was discontinued for immigration detainees as of the end
of calendar year 2013, according to Bureau of Prisons and ICE officials.
We also excluded facilities for juvenile detainees—individuals under 18
years of age—because these facilities are regulated by the Department of
Health and Human Services.
To determine how federal costs compare across different types of
immigration detention facilities, we analyzed ICE fiscal year 2013 data,
the most recent fiscal year for which data were available, related to ICE
expenditures for detention facilities. These data include the Contract
Financial Monitoring File (CFMF), a manual tool maintained by ICE Office
of Enforcement and Removal Operations’ (ERO) Operational Support

1

ICE documentation showed that 155 of these facilities held at least one detainee in fiscal
year 2013, while 11 facilities did not hold any detainees during this time period.

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology

Division to budget and track costs at individual facilities, and ICE Office of
Budget and Program Performance (OBPP) fiscal year 2013 data drawn
from ICE’s Federal Financial Management System (FFMS). ICE OBPP
uses these data to calculate ICE’s average facility “bed rate”—the
average cost to house one detainee for 1 day. To determine the reliability
of the CFMF, we conducted data testing to look for anomalies, reviewed
related documentation, and interviewed knowledgeable agency officials.
We determined that these data were sufficiently reliable for our purposes,
but have limitations as discussed in this report. To assess the reliability of
ICE OBPP’s bed rate data, we tested the data and interviewed
knowledgeable agency officials. We determined that the data are not
reliable for reporting on the differences in cost by facility type, as
discussed in this report. To determine the reasons for possible
differences in costs, we analyzed ICE documents, including an ICEfunded study of detention bed rate costs across facilities and in particular
at ICE-owned service processing centers (SPC), and interviewed agency
officials. 2 We assessed the methodology for the ICE-funded study and
determined that it was reliable for our purposes. To determine the extent
to which ICE has processes in place to track and manage detention
facility costs, we analyzed relevant documents, including DHS annual
financial reports, previous GAO reports related to DHS financial
management, and ICE financial management guidance, and interviewed
agency officials. 3 We assessed our findings related to ICE’s financial
management practices against Standards for Internal Control in the
Federal Government and ICE’s 2010-2014 strategic plan. 4 We also
analyzed the extent to which ICE’s average daily population (ADP) in its

2
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of the Chief Financial Officer.
Detention Bed Space Procurement Analysis; Report on ICE Detention Sourcing. The
purpose of the study was to analyze the effectiveness of the ICE detention bed
procurement process, develop a common approach to the procurement of detention beds,
and recommend solutions to ICE to improve its approach. The focus of the study was on
23 facilities that housed over 52 percent of the average daily detainee population in 2012,
including ICE-owned service processing centers, privately owned contract detention
facilities (CDF), and government-owned facilities under dedicated intergovernmental
service agreements (DIGSA).
3

See GAO, High-Risk Series: An Update, GAO-13-283 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 2013),
and DHS Financial Management: Additional Efforts Needed to Resolve Deficiencies in
Internal Controls and Financial Management Systems, GAO-13-561 (Washington, D.C.:
Sept. 30, 2013).
4

GAO, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1
(Washington D.C.: Nov. 1999).

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Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology

facilities met the guaranteed minimums—the number of beds ICE pays
for each day regardless of their utilization—in those facilities. We
assessed ICE’s plans to develop guidance for the field related to
considering cost in detainee placements against Standards for Internal
Control in the Federal Government. 5 We reviewed relevant laws,
including the Improper Payments Information Act (IPIA) of 2002, the
Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act (IPERA) of 2010, and
the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Improvement Act
(IPERIA) of 2012, as well as related Office of Management and Budget
guidance. 6 We analyzed a sample of invoices and supporting
documentation submitted to ICE by detention services contractors for
services provided in December 2013 to determine the extent to which
these invoices met ICE’s requirements for invoice elements and
supporting documentation, and were managed in accordance with
Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government. 7 We selected
invoices from December 2013 because, according to ICE officials,
invoices from December 2013 and later should adhere to ICE’s new
invoice submission and review guidance. We analyzed 31 of the 158
invoices for detention services in December 2013 that ICE had received
by February 2014. The selection included invoices from a range of facility
types. Results of our analysis are not generalizable beyond the sample,
but they provide insight into facility invoice adherence to the new
guidance. To determine the extent to which ICE has processes to track
and manage detention facility costs and plans for developing guidance
related to detainee placements, we also interviewed cognizant agency
officials.
To assess the extent to which the federal standards that govern
conditions of confinement vary across different types of immigration
detention facilities and reasons for any differences, we identified ICE
detention standards, including the 2000 National Detention Standards
(NDS), the 2008 Performance-Based National Detention Standards
(PBNDS), and the 2011 PBNDS and analyzed the extent to which ICE

5

GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.

6
Pub. L. No. 107-300, 116 Stat. 2350; Pub. L. No. 111-204, 124 Stat. 2224; Pub. L. No.
112-248, 126 Stat. 2390.
7

GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.

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Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology

applied these different standards across detention facilities. 8 We analyzed
these three sets of standards to assess the similarities and differences
among the standards in terms of the number, content, and application
across facilities. To identify the standards to which each facility was held,
we first analyzed the standards included in 166 facility contracts and
agreements in place as of August 2013, the date that ICE had provided
us a list of facilities that are authorized to house detainees for over 72
hours when we began our analysis. Because ERO officials told us that
facilities can be inspected to higher standards than those specified in the
signed contract or agreement, we next analyzed ERO inspection data to
identify the standards to which facilities were inspected in fiscal year
2013, or the most recent year inspected. If a facility was inspected to a
more rigorous set of standards than those identified in its contract or
ERO’s facilities list, we categorized the facility by the standards to which it
was inspected. Finally, we updated our analysis to incorporate facility
standards updated by ERO in facility contracts or agreements as of
January 2014, to capture all updates made during 2013. To determine the
percentage of ICE detainees who were covered by each set of standards
during fiscal year 2013, we analyzed the standards to which each facility
was held against the ADP. In addition, we assessed the extent to which
ICE documented its decision-making process for determining which
standards to apply at which facilities in accordance with Standards for
Internal Control in the Federal Government. 9 Further, we analyzed 41
waivers ICE had granted to detention facilities to exempt them from
certain detention standards, and which were still in effect in August 2014,
when we performed the analysis. These waivers were approved from
fiscal year 2012 through August 2014. We assessed these waivers to
identify the specific standards for which ICE has issued waivers. We also
interviewed ICE officials to determine the reasons why standards vary by
facility type and ERO’s plans to implement the most recent set of
detention standards at facilities.

8

ICE has a fourth set of detention standards, the 2007 Residential Standards. We
excluded these standards because at the time we conducted our work, the standards
applied to two facilities that housed less than 2 percent of the average daily detention
population in fiscal year 2013. Because one of these facilities did not, as of January 2014,
house children, for the purposes of our review, we considered this facility to be a DIGSA.
The remaining over-72-hour facility held less than 1 percent of ICE’s average daily
detainee population during fiscal year 2013.
9

GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.

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Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology

To assess how federal oversight compares across different types of
immigration detention facilities, we identified the various oversight
mechanisms ICE used at detention facilities in fiscal year 2013 and
analyzed differences in their use and results. Specifically, we analyzed
the extent to which ICE used (1) annual and biennial facility inspections
conducted by the ERO contractor, (2) annual facility self-inspections
conducted under ERO’s Operational Review Self-Assessment (ORSA)
process, (3) ERO’s detention service manager (DSM) on-site monitoring
program, and (4) Office of Detention Oversight (ODO) risk-based facility
inspections at 166 ICE facilities authorized to hold detainees for over 72
hours as of August 2013. With respect to ERO’s inspection program, we
analyzed ERO inspection data for fiscal year 2013, the most recent fiscal
year for which inspection data were available. To determine the reliability
of ERO’s inspection data, which are maintained in ERO’s Facility
Performance Management System (FPMS), we conducted data testing to
identify anomalies and interviewed knowledgeable agency officials. We
concluded that the FPMS data were sufficiently reliable for the purposes
of this report. We interviewed cognizant agency officials regarding these
mechanisms and the reasons why different oversight mechanisms were
used at different facilities. We compared the percentage of fiscal year
2013 ADP in immigration detention facilities by facility type and oversight
mechanisms used at facilities to determine what percentage of detainees
are housed in facilities at which ICE uses the various oversight
mechanisms. To determine the extent to which the results of oversight
mechanisms vary, we compared the results of ICE ERO’s annual
inspections and ICE ODO inspection results for the 35 facilities that
received both an ERO and ODO inspection in fiscal year 2013.
Specifically, we compared ERO and ODO inspection results across the
35 facilities to determine differences in the overall number of deficiencies
identified by each office. We also compared ERO and ODO facility
inspection results for selected facilities across three standards that ICE
has identified as high priority—medical care, special management unit,
and use of force—to illustrate differences between ERO and ODO
inspections of the same facilities. We also interviewed ICE ERO and
ODO agency officials regarding the reasons for any differences in results
between the two oversight mechanisms. We assessed the extent to which
ICE addressed the differences in the results of the two oversight
mechanisms and communicated these differences to management and

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Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology

others within the agency in accordance with Standards for Internal
Control in the Federal Government. 10
We conducted this performance audit from March 2013 to October 2014,
in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain
sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that
the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and
conclusions based on our audit objectives.

10

GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1.

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Appendix II: Comparison of U.S. Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention
Standards
Appendix II: Comparison of U.S. Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention
Standards

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement primarily uses three sets of
national detention standards with varying requirements to govern the
conditions of confinement in its detention facilities—the 2000 National
Detention Standards (NDS), the 2008 Performance-Based National
Detention Standards (PBNDS), and the 2011 PBNDS. 1 The 2000 NDS
contains 38 standards related to aspects of detainee care and services
and facility operation, while the 2008 PBNDS contains 41 standards, and
the 2011 PBNDS contains 42 standards, as shown in table 4.
Table 4: Comparison of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention Standards
2000 National Detention
Standards (NDS)

2008 PerformanceBased National Detention
Standards (PBNDS)

2011 PBNDS

Emergency plans

●

●

●

Environmental health and safety

●

●

●

Transportation by land

●

●

●

●

●

●

●

●

●

Detention standards
category and subcategory
Safety

Security
Admission and release
a

Custody classification system
Contraband

●

●

●

Facility security and control

●

●

●

Funds and personal property

●

●

●

Hold room in detention facilities

●

●

●

Key and lock control

●

●

●

Population counts

●

●

●

Post orders

●

●

●

Searches of detainees

o

●

●

○

●

●

b

Sexual abuse and assault prevention
and intervention
Special management units

c

Staff-detainee communications

●

●

●

●

●

●

1
A fourth set of detention standards—the 2007 Family Residential Standards—pertains to
facilities that house children and their families, and exclusively house ICE detainees. The
Family Residential Standards are based on ICE analysis of family detention operations
and state statutes that affect children. Less than 2 percent of ICE’s average daily
detention population was held in residential facilities in fiscal year 2013.

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Appendix II: Comparison of U.S. Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention
Standards

2000 National Detention
Standards (NDS)

2008 PerformanceBased National Detention
Standards (PBNDS)

2011 PBNDS

●

●

●

●

●

●

●

●

●

Food service

●

●

●

Hunger strikes

●

●

●

Detention standards
category and subcategory
Tool control
d

Use of force and restraints
Order
Disciplinary system

e

Care

Medical care

●

●

●

Medical care for women

○

○

●

Personal hygiene

○

●

●

Significant self-harm and suicide
prevention and intervention

●

●

●

Terminal illness, advance directives,
and death

●

●

●

Correspondence and other mail

●

●

●

Trips for nonmedical emergencies

●

●

●

Marriage requests

●

●

●

Recreation

●

●

●

Religious practices

●

●

●

Activities

Telephone access

●

●

●

Visitation

●

●

●

Voluntary work program

●

●

●

Issuance and exchange of clothing,
bedding, and towels

●

○

○

●

●

●

Justice
Detainee handbook
Grievance system

●

●

●

●

●

●

●

●

●

●

●

●

○

●

●

Staff training

○

●

●

Detainee transfers

●

●

●

Law libraries and legal material

f

Legal rights group presentations
Administration and management
Detention files
Interviews and tours

g

Legend: ● = applicable standard ○ = standard not applicable
Source: GAO analysis of ICE data. | GAO-15-153

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Appendix II: Comparison of U.S. Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention
Standards

Notes: The 2000 NDS groups standards under four categories—Detainee Services, Security and
Control, Health Services, and Terminology. For the purposes of comparison, we present the NDS
standards using the seven categories published in the 2008 and 2011 PBNDS.
a
b
c

In the 2000 NDS, Custody Classification system is referred to as Detainee Classification System.
In the 2000 NDS, the Facility Security and Control standard is referred to as Security Inspections.

In the 2000 NDS, this standard consists of two separate standards—the Unit for Administrative
Segregation and the Unit for Disciplinary Segregation.

d
e
f

In the 2000 NDS, this standard is referred to as Use of Force.
In the 2000 NDS, this standard is referred to as Disciplinary Policy.

In the 2000 NDS, this standard is referred to as Access to Legal Material.

g

In the 2008 PBNDS, this standard is referred to as News Media Interview and Tours.

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

Appendix III: Example of an Italicized
Requirement
Appendix III: Example of an Italicized
Requirement

In addition to the procedures that all detention facilities are expected to
meet, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention
standards can require specific types of facilities to conform to more
detailed procedures; however, all sets of standards identify these detailed
procedures in italicized text (referred to as “italicized requirements”).
ICE’s 2000 National Detention Standards (NDS) and the 2008
Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS) require
service processing centers (SPC) and contract detention facilities (CDF)
to conform to the more detailed procedures; facilities operating under a
nondedicated intergovernmental service agreement (IGSA), however,
may either conform to the italicized procedures or adopt, adapt, or
establish alternative procedures. The 2011 PBNDS require all dedicated
facilities—SPCs, CDFs, and those dedicated facilities operating under an
intergovernmental service agreement (DIGSA)—to conform to the more
detailed procedures; nondedicated IGSAs may choose to conform to or
adopt alternative procedures. According to ICE, the italicized procedures
are intended to make conditions of confinement more uniform at facilities
where only ICE detainees are housed. Table 5 presents an example of an
italicized procedure from the 2011 PBNDS. For a complete list of 2011
PBNDS italicized procedures, go to
http://www.ice.gov/detention-standards/2011/.

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Appendix III: Example of an Italicized
Requirement

Table 5: Example of an Italicized Procedure in the 2011 Performance-Based
National Detention Standards (PBNDS)
Contraband
C. Destruction of Contraband
Expected practices
Italicized requirement
(All facility types)
(Dedicated facilities)
•
The facility administrator •
Contraband may be destroyed when no longer
shall establish a
needed for disciplinary action or criminal
procedure for the
prosecution. It may also be kept for official use,
destruction of contraband
such as use as a training tool, if secured in the
items.
facility armory when not in use.
1. The Chief of Security, or equivalent, shall determine
whether an item shall be destroyed.
2. The Chief of Security shall send the facility
administrator a memorandum, through official
channels, describing what is to be destroyed and
the rationale for destruction.
3. The facility administrator shall require that an item
of questionable ownership be held for 120 days
before its destruction can be considered, to afford
the detainee ample opportunity to obtain proof of
ownership and appeal the decision in accordance
with standard “6.2 Grievance System.”
4. Where disciplinary action is appropriate, the facility
administrator shall defer his/her decision about the
property until the disciplinary case, including any
appeals, is resolved.
5. The officer who physically destroys the property and
at least one official observer shall attest, in writing,
to having witnessed the property’s destruction.
6. A copy of the property disposal record shall be
given to the detainee, and another copy shall be
placed in the detainee’s detention file.
Source: 2011 PBNDS. | GAO-15-153

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Appendix IV: Example of an Optimal
Provision in U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement’s (ICE) 2011 PerformanceBased Detention Standards (PBNDS)
Appendix IV: Example of an Optimal Provision
in U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement’s (ICE) 2011 Performance-Based
Detention Standards (PBNDS)

In the 2011 PBNDS, ICE introduced the concept of optimal provisions—
nonmandatory provisions that facilities may choose to implement, but are
not required. 1 According to ICE, implementation of these provisions
furthers the effective operation of a facility at the level intended under the
revised 2011 PBNDS. 2 ICE reports that these optimal provisions allow for
a range of compliance across its diverse facilities, which facilitates the
immediate implementation of the revised standards—at minimal cost—
while ICE continues to lay the groundwork for future reform of the
detention system. Table 6 provides an example of an optimal provision in
the 2011 PBNDS. For a complete listing of all optimal provisions in the
2011 PBNDS, go to http://www.ice.gov/detention-standards/2011/.

1

According to ICE officials, when a facility adopts one or more optimal standards, the
standards are documented in the facility’s contract with ICE and the facility is contractually
bound to meet the optimal provisions in ICE’s inspection of the facility.

2

Not all standards in the 2011 PBNDS contain optimal provisions. Of the 42 standards in
the 2011 PBNDS, the following 10 standards also include optimal provisions: Admission
and Release; Special Management Units; Use of Force and Restraints; Medical Care;
Medical Care (Women); Significant Self-harm and Suicide Prevention and Intervention;
Terminal Illness, Advance Directives, and Death; Recreation; Telephone Access; and Law
Libraries and Legal Material.

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Appendix IV: Example of an Optimal Provision
in U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement’s (ICE) 2011 Performance-Based
Detention Standards (PBNDS)

Table 6: Example of an Optimal Procedure in the 2011 Performance-Based National
Detention Standards (PBNDS)
Recreation standard
B. Recreation schedule
Expected practices
•

If outdoor recreation is available, all
general detention detainees shall have
access for at least one hour, seven
days a week, at a reasonable time of
day, weather permitting.

•

Detainees shall have access to
clothing appropriate for weather
conditions.
If only indoor recreation is available,
each general population detainee shall
have access for no less than one hour,
seven days a week and shall have
access to natural light.

•

•

•

Optimal requirement
•

General population detainees shall
have access at least four hours a day,
seven days a week to outdoor
recreation, weather and scheduling
permitted. Daily indoor recreation shall
also be available. During inclement
weather detainees shall have access
to indoor recreational opportunities,
with access to natural light.

Recreation schedules shall be
provided to detainees or posted in the
facility.
Under no circumstances shall the
facility require detainees to forgo basic
law library privileges for recreation
privileges.

Source: 2011 PBNDS. | GAO-15-153

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Appendix V: Comments from the
Department of Homeland Security
Appendix V: Comments from the
Department of Homeland Security

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Appendix V: Comments from the
Department of Homeland Security

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Appendix V: Comments from the
Department of Homeland Security

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

Appendix VI: GAO Contact and Staff
Acknowledgments
GAO Contact

Rebecca Gambler, (202) 512-8777 or gamblerr@gao.gov

Staff
Acknowledgments

In addition to the contact named above, Lacinda Ayers (Assistant
Director), Pedro A. Almoguera, Carla D. Brown, Frances A. Cook,
Michele Fejfar, Allyson R. Goldstein, Barbara A. Guffy, Melissa Hargy,
Paul D. Kinney, Amanda K. Miller, Jessica S. Orr, James J. Ungvarsky,
John Warner, and Eric M. Warren made significant contributions to this
report.

(441139)

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GAO-15-153 Immigration Detention

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