CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Wednesday, May 30, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 1299, the Secure Border Act of 2011, under a suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority for approval. The bill was originally introduced on March 31, 2011, by Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) and was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security. The committee held a mark-up session on September 21, 2011, and ordered the bill to be reported by voice vote.
H.R. 1299 would direct the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) to submit to Congress within 180 days of enactment a comprehensive strategy for gaining operational control of the international borders between U.S. ports of entry within five years.
The bill would require such strategy to include an analysis of the following: (1) staffing requirements; (2) infrastructure needs; (3) the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, camera technology, sensors, and other innovative technology; (4) cooperative agreements with international, state, local, tribal, and other federal law enforcement agencies; (5) other means designed to respond to unlawful cross-border activity and to reduce the level of violence; (6) a schedule for implementing security measures; (7) a plan for major surveillance and detection technology programs; and (8) the recommendations made in the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report "Enhanced DHS Oversight and Assessment of Interagency Coordination is Needed for the Northern Border."
The bill would also direct the Secretary to develop metrics to measure security effectiveness at ports of entry which shall consider the following: (1) the number of infractions related to personnel and cargo committed by major violators; (2) the required number of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers, Agricultural Specialists, and Canine Enforcement Officers necessary to achieve operational control; (3) infrastructure improvements; (4) resource deployment; and (5) the recommendations made in the previously referenced GAO report.
Lastly, the bill would require the Secretary to submit to the Congress, within 60 days of the bill's enactment and annually thereafter, a report on staffing levels at U.S. ports of entry.
According to H. Rept. 112-274, “The 2004 National Border Patrol Strategy, produced by the U.S. Border Patrol, was predicated on the concept of gaining and maintaining operational control of the borders. The Department of Homeland Security in the Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Justification documents provided to Congress indicated that the Department had no plans to gain additional miles of operational control during Fiscal Year 2011 or 2012.
The Government Accountability Office report, ‘Preliminary Observations on Border Control Measures for the Southwest Border’ (GAO-11-374T), indicated that only 44 percent of the southwest border was under operational control, and an earlier report, ‘Enhanced DHS Oversight and Assessment of Interagency Coordination Is Needed for the Northern Border’ (GAO-11-97), indicated that only 32 of the nearly 4,000 northern border miles in fiscal year 2010 had reached an acceptable level of security.
Since September 11th, 2001, Congress has spent billions of dollars to secure the borders through investments in personnel, technology and infrastructure. The Committee believes that investments in border security should not be ad hoc; rather investments should only be made as part of a larger strategic plan.
The Committee believes that the Department of Homeland Security should produce a comprehensive and coherent plan to gain and maintain operational control, as defined by the Secure Fence Act of 2006, to guide future investments for the Nation's border security efforts.
Security at the ports of entry is also of concern to the Committee. The Department of Justice reports that 90 percent of the illegal drugs that enter the Nation come though just 20 ports of entry. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Field Operations has no National measurement tool to gauge security progress at the ports of entry. Government Accountability Office ‘red team’ exercises indicate that security challenges exist at the Nation's ports of entry. A clear and verifiable way to measure security progress at the ports of entry is needed to inform training requirements, infrastructure spending and staffing requirements.
The Department of Homeland Security is currently working on a metric called the Border Condition Index, which has been explained as a means to capture several disparate indicators of border security to present a more holistic view of the conditions along the Nation's borders. While the Committee does not oppose such work, we believe that any proposed replacement for the statutorily defined operational control standard should be vigorously vetted by a Department of Energy National Laboratory to ensure its suitability.”
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), “implementing H.R. 1299 would cost less than $500,000 annually from appropriated funds. Enacting the bill would not affect direct spending or revenues; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures do not apply.”