Customs and Border Protection used money meant for food, medicine for dirt bikes, ATVs, says GAO – NBC News

By | June 11, 2020

Customs and Border Protection spent portions of a $ 112 million emergency fund meant to buy food, medicine and other items for migrants on ATVS, dirt bikes and boats, according to a Government Accountability Office report published Thursday.

“Congress provided this additional funding for the primary purpose of improving conditions for migrants at the border and ensuring migrants were receiving adequate healthcare after the deaths of multiple children in custody,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. “Instead of helping migrants and improving conditions on the ground, CBP then broke the law by spending this taxpayer money on things that were not authorized—such as ATVs, dirt bikes, and computer systems.”

At the request of Congress, the GAO had examined CBP’s books for how the agency spent its emergency allocations for “consumables and medical care” in 2019, and issued a legal opinion finding CBP had used the funds for items that were not food, hygiene products or medicine. The GAO recommended CBP fix its books to put expenses in the proper categories and pay for the items out of the right parts of its budget, or else it would be required to report its failure to do so.

“If CBP lacks sufficient budget authority to make the adjustments, then it should report a violation of the Antideficiency Act as required by law,” said the GAO report.

The funds in question were a part of the 2019 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Humanitarian Assistance and Security at the Southern Border Act, which was passed when there was a surge in asylum seekers at the border and migrants were staying in overcrowded CBP processing centers, some so densely populated there was nowhere for the migrants to lie down to sleep. The act included $ 112 million specifically for “consumables and medical care.”

Some of the purchases in question made with “consumables and medical care” funds included expenses for CBP’s canine program, items in support of its employee vaccine program, computer network upgrades, printers, speakers, and a selection of vehicles including ATVs, motorcycles, dirt bikes, boats, passenger vans, and small utility vehicles.

CBP also used some of that money for facility services including HVAC upgrades, sewer system upgrades, and janitorial services. The GAO found little to no connection between the expenses and the category of funds used to pay for them. While CBP disputed some of those decisions, according to the report, the agency agreed in correspondence with the GAO to reallocate some of the expenses to other budget categories.

In a statement, CBP called the identified violations “technical in nature,” and said prompt remedial action would be taken.

“CBP charged a small subset of expenses in fiscal year 2019 to the incorrect account. We are working to itemize all such expenses, and correct our accounts as recommend by the GAO,” the agency said. “We emphasize that, and GAO’s opinion does not suggest otherwise, all of CBP’s obligations were for lawful objects related to agency operations and the care of those in our custody.”

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