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Hearing - Fiscal Year 2005 Appropriations for Border Security and Enforcement and Immigration Services

Location: Washington, DC

Federal News Service






SEN. COCHRAN: Today we continue our review of the president's fiscal year 2005 budget request for the Department of Homeland Security. We will specifically consider the request for programs and activities of three of the department's agencies: Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

I'm pleased to welcome the director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Mr. Eduardo Aguirre; the commissioner of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, Mr. Robert Bonner, and the assistant secretary of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Mr. Michael Garcia. We thank you for submitting copies of your statements in advance of the hearing. These will be made a part of the record, and we invite you each to make any comments you think would be helpful to the committee's understanding of the budget request.

Before asking the witnesses to proceed, however, I'm happy to yield to Senator Byrd and other senators who may wish to make opening statements.

Senator Byrd.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D-WV): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Comrades on the committee. You see, I'm ahead of everybody else on the Hill. Fifty-one years on the Hill entitles me to call my friends here comrades.

Welcome to our distinguished witnesses. The men and women under your direction have a great impact on the safety of American citizens as well as visitors to our country. Secretary Ridge has promoted the concept of one face at the border, and I support that concept. However, I remain concerned that there are real vulnerabilities facing this nation that require immediate responses.

Last December, Secretary Ridge said, "The strategic indicators, including al Qaeda's continued desire to carry out attacks against our homeland, are perhaps greater now than at any point since September 11." On March 11, terrorists armed with backpacks filled with explosives coordinated an attack that resulted in the deaths of nearly 200 people in Madrid.

I would expect that the administration would anticipate these kinds of threats and address such threats with a robust defense. Yet as I review the administration's budget, America's defense is far too reliant on paper, on studies and on reports rather than on the layered defense that the president and the secretary often describe in their homeland security speeches.

Let me just give a few examples. Nearly 9 million commercial containers are brought into this country each year through our ports, yet only 5 percent of them are inspected. We've all heard these figures time and time and time again. On January 5, 2004, the new visa tracking system, known as US-VISIT, V-I-S-I-T, began operation at 115 airports and 14 seaports, Customs and Border Protection inspectors are collecting data on visitors entering our country, but the Bush administration still has no clear plan for confirming who is exiting the United States. We have no way of knowing whether aliens who are supposed to have left the country have in fact left the country.

At the same time, we need to ensure that sufficient funds are provided to integrate the various existing biometric databases. We need to make sure that the US-VISIT system and the Border Patrol IDENT system are compatible with the FBI Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System.

At our March 9 hearing, Secretary Hutchinson attempted to address this issue, but I believe he fell short in his response. We need to have integrated systems that can talk to each other. We must know whether aliens trying to come into this country or aliens already in this country have a criminal history. By integrating these systems, CVP would know if an alien was a security risk and refuse them entry to the country, remove them from the country or imprison them. We simply cannot be satisfied with incompatible systems that result in murderers and other criminals walking through holes in our border security. The Federal Air Marshal Service does not have sufficient resources this year to maintain the number of air marshals on targeted domestic and international flights. And because the administration has proposed no increase for next year, a bad problem could become even worse next year.

The president has proposed a sweeping amnesty for people already residing illegally in this country. Yet the president's budget request includes only modest increases for programs that attempt to cope with our growing illegal alien population and provides insufficient funds to robustly enforce our existing immigration laws. When I inquired of Secretary Ridge just how he would pay to implement the president's amnesty program, he could not answer. I want to make sure that this subcommittee and this Congress provide real homeland security to the American people, not just assurances on paper.

The president stubbornly has told his agencies not to seek supplemental appropriations this year. Just last week we learned that more than a year after standing up the new department, there still is not a complete accounting of the funds which have been made available for the operation of your agencies. The department has imposed hiring freezes so that the department's accountants, along with its OMB overseers, can audit the books. Air marshals are not being hired, inspectors at our ports of entry and criminal investigators are not being hired. We're six months into the fiscal year. I simply do not understand why the administration has not proposed a solution to this problem. Homeland security cannot wait.

I have never claimed to be the Oracle of Delphi, but there are many times these days when I feel like Diogenes; I am looking for an honest man. I am seeking someone who can tell this president that this nation is vulnerable, and that this president's budget leaves us vulnerable for another year. Time and again, my colleagues and I have tried to provide this department with the additional resources we believe it needs to truly provide security to the homeland. And time and again, this administration has stiff-armed our efforts, labelling amendments for border security, port security, air cargo security and rail security as wasteful spending.

I hope we can get to the bottom of this alleged budget shortfall for the department quickly. It is a problem not of Congress' making. I will be discussing many of these issues.

I appreciate the fine work of our witnesses and the courageous men and women who work for you. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. COCHRAN: Thank you, Mr. Garcia.

I hope that during the first round of questions we'll be able to limit our time to five minutes each, and that will give us all an opportunity to ask a second round of questions, if that's the wish and pleasure of the senators on the subcommittee.

Let me start by bringing up this issue of the shortfall in funding. In the Congressional Quarterly yesterday, Monday, March 29, there's an article that discusses this and carries some quotations from administration officials, a spokesman from the Border and Transportation Security Directorate, which suggested that there is not an actual shortfall in funding. And the official, Dennis Murphy, is quoted as saying, "We're projecting that the spending rate may need to be slowed down and we just need to take the foot off the accelerator a bit."

My question is, is that an appropriate assessment, in the judgment of this panel? I noticed that-it may be that not all of your agencies are affected by this, but I think Mr. Bonner's and Mr. Garcia's are.

Mr. Bonner, what is your reaction to that?

MR. BONNER: You know, I don't-first of all, I don't want to parse words here. But, I mean, there isn't an actual shortfall, but there is a potential shortfall.

Let me just say from the --

SEN. : (Off mike comment regarding Mr. Bonner's microphone.)

MR. BONNER: Is it? Maybe it's just not close enough, Senator. Is that better? Okay.

I was just saying, without trying to parse words too carefully here, I think it's more appropriate to characterize this as a potential shortfall, not an actual shortfall. And the reason I say that is-I'm going to speak just from the perspective of Customs and Border Protection here. And that is that as part of what I do as a manager of the agency every year is to, at the end of the first quarter I take stock. I get a report from my budget office as to where we stand. And I was concerned, after the end of the first quarter review, that with the-two things, really; the rate of spending, as to whether or not we were going to be within budget at the end of the year and not be anti-deficit. And secondly, the possible impact of the reconciliation of budget allocations between-potentially between CBP and ICE, which is something, by the way, I believe that will be completed by the department in the next several weeks. But I was concerned about that.

And as a prudent manager of Customs and Border Protection, I directed that we curtail non-operational travel; that we curtail non- operational overtime-not overtime that's related to mission performance here. And I also believe that we should have a temporary suspension of hiring, except for Border Patrol agents, at Customs and Border Protection, so we could get a clear picture of our spending rate and our budget. And when I say "temporary," I mean temporary, and that is that we would suspend-and we're just starting this. It would be a short suspension that could literally be several weeks, and then I would be hopeful that we would be able to resume hiring. I do not know. I mean, this will depend upon what our budget picture looks like when we take stock in three or four weeks.

But on the positive side, I do want to tell this committee that we have-we did move out at the beginning of the year aggressively in terms of hiring new employees at Customs and Border Protection, and we've already hired-so any suspension here does not affect what we've already hired. We've already hired 2,700 employees, and these include 1,500 inspectors, CBP inspectors; 800 Border Patrol agents; and some other personnel.

So-and we're also looking very closely at the attrition rate here in terms of-right now that looks pretty encouraging in terms of both the border patrol agents and CBP inspectors. The attrition rates right now, if this holds up, are lower than projected. They're as low, by the way, this year as 5.5 percent right now for Border Patrol agents, and I think some of you know that the attrition rate at the Border Patrol was close to 20 percent just two years ago, when it was part of the INS.

So again, what we're doing here is we're looking at this very, very closely and we are making some temporary adjustments, and we will then have to make some decisions as to whether or not we can resume hiring or whether we have to suspend it further. But that would be my overall assessment, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. COCHRAN: Thank you.

Mr. Garcia, what about the Bureau of Customs-I mean, what about the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement that you are responsible for? What's the effect of this on your agency?

MR. GARCIA: Yes, Mr. Chairman, a similar effect Commissioner Bonner was describing. We have imposed a temporary hiring freeze. There is no category within ICE that's exempt from that at the moment. We have been hiring up to the point of the end of the first quarter, and imposed this, again, looking down the road, looking at the spending rate. But from the perspective of my agency, very much concerned with mapping issues, distribution issues, particularly in the IT context. Services being provided, mapping funding to the provision of those services are very complicated issues.

If you look at the size of the legacy agencies that were involved, the services that were provided and the split that we have accomplished very successfully, you can appreciate the complexity of those issues. We are very much watching that process, optimistic that we will, working together, have firmer numbers within the next several weeks; that we can then reassess, as Commissioner Bonner said, again look at spending rates, look at the harder numbers and see what are the steps that we need to take to be fiscally responsible, which may not, and we all hope will not, include a hiring freeze.

SEN. COCHRAN: Have either one of you had to postpone or defer any program initiatives, any activities that would defer initiatives that you had already planned or put in place? Have you postponed doing anything that you intended to do?

MR. BONNER: We haven't at CBP and I hope we don't have to. But we have not at this point.

SEN. COCHRAN: Mr. Garcia, what about you?

MR. GARCIA: None of the new programs or operations. We have not gone forward with the '04 enhancements as of yet.

SEN. COCHRAN: Okay. Thank you.

SEN. COCHRAN: Are you successful in getting the cooperation of local and state law enforcement officials in helping you achieve your goals?

MR. GARCIA: Yes, Senator. Again, you have to look at the area. And there's a wide range of options available. At one side of the spectrum is states that want to actively participate in enforcement, and there is a provision, 287 G it's called, for doing that. And we did it in Senator Shelby's state most recently. The LESC, I spoke about earlier, provides another opportunity for cooperation. Gang, anti-gang work, we've been very successful in Chicago, L.A., Charlotte on anti-gang work, working with state and local officials. So there is a very wide spectrum to that cooperation. I believe that the institutional removal context is an area where we can do more, working with the states, it's a benefit to both, it makes our work more efficient, where the states will flag or bring to our attention inmates who should be in our system, and we can remove those criminal aliens from probation or parole systems that cost the state money, in terms of supervisory dollars. So I think that's an area where we're going to move much more aggressively in the state and local cooperation area.

SEN. COCHRAN: I want to commend you for the hard work and the good job you're doing, your bureau is doing. I think we've seen a lot of new initiatives developed, and a lot of success stories that haven't gotten the attention that probably should have.

Mr. Aguirre, I know that you're in the process of updating citizenship processes, and looking at the test that's given to those who are seeking to obtain citizenship in your country. Could you tell us a little about what you're doing in that area, and whether there are any additional funds requested to support those activities?

MR. AGUIRRE: Senator, thank you. As mandated by Congress, we have instituted an Office of Citizenship, which is actually responsible for the citizenship aspect of immigration, or if you will, the naturalization aspect of immigration. That office is looking at various aspects. One, we're trying to make the test of citizenship a better process. It's a good process now, but I think it can be improved. We've gone through a pilot project last year to look at better ways to deal with the English portion of the test, and see how we can have a more meaningful process. That pilot is now back. We've had some very good reports from some of the NGOs, and we're trying to fine tune that and see how we can make it better.

Additionally, there is a provision for history and civics, which is also part of the test that an applicant must go through before they're granted naturalization. We're looking at ways to see if we can make it a more meaningful approach, where the questions are not the end, but the end is the learning, and the question is part of the component. And to that end, sir, we are working with academicians, we are working with historians, we're working with the Department of Education to see how we can do the learning, a more meaningful aspect, and particularly since many of these applicants are slow in their English knowledge, we want to see how we can improve their understanding of what it is to be an American, not only from a historical standpoint, but also the civic responsibilities that one assumes when they become a citizen. That's all part of the element. And yes, sir, we do have an inclusion in the budget to accommodate that.

SEN. COCHRAN: Thank you very much.

Mr. Bonner, there is a request for an additional $15 million to expand the Customs Trade Partnership against terrorism. Could you tell us how these resources are going to be used, and what the purpose of that program is?

MR. BONNER: Yes, Senator, Mr. Chairman, it's essentially two- fold. One is to be able to expand the validation of the C-TPAT partners. In other words, they enter into a commitment with U.S. Customs and border protection to take certain measures, best practices, to improve their supply chain security, literally from their foreign vendors to our nation's ports of entry. And the old saying is, of some former president, was trust but verify.

So we're expanding our validation capabilities, and we're doing more validation. And as we validate, more people understand that this is not Window dressing, this is serious stuff. If you're going to get expedited treatment upon arrival, you need to take these measures that you've committed to take. So part of it is for that. Part of it is to further expand the base of C-TPAT partners. We already have 5,900 companies, including many of the major U.S. importers that are part of C-TPAT. In fact, the importers alone are about 3,500, these are major importers that account for over 40 percent or more of all of the incoming cargo coming into the U.S. So it also will be funding to expand and administer the program.

SEN. COCHRAN: Thank you. Senator Byrd?

SEN. COCHRAN: Thank you.

I have two final questions, and other Senators may have other questions, we're going to have a vote, I think, at about 12:15 on the Senate Floor. So, we're about through, if that is any consolation to you.

I noticed in the budget request there is $64 million being requested for sensor and surveillance technology. There is technology currently deployed between the land ports of entry, but you're developing a project plan for the $64 million request, as I understand it. Do you have any idea what the total cost of finishing the installation of sensor technology is going to be, Mr. Bonner, I guess that's a question you should answer?

MR. BONNER: Yes, it is, because this is sensoring technology for the border patrol to better control and detect against the illegal crossings by illegal migrants, drug smugglers, potential terrorists, and the $64 million is going to help us immensely in terms of expanding the things like the remote video system, and the ISIS system and the ground sensors that we use at strategic places along the border, the Southwest border, and of course unfortunately since 9/11 we've had to give more attention to our northern border with Canada, too, in terms of understanding who and what may be crossing that border, so that the border patrol is then able to respond and apprehend those that illegally cross our borders.

But, you're asking me what the total is, I don't have the number. The goal is to have sensoring technology, which could include, by the way, ground sensors, the sophisticated hammer sensoring systems, plus UAV, and we have funding for that, to give us a more comprehensive picture, that's the goal, of illegal penetration of our borders at the most vulnerable areas. There are some areas of our border that are, for example, I mean, in the Rocky Mountains on the Canadian border during the winter, I mean, it is virtually impassable. So, we're looking at it in terms of where the vulnerabilities are. The goal is to expand this sensoring system to give us sufficient visibility that we have substantial control over, and detection capabilities for people moving across the border.

Mr. Chairman, what the total number is, I don't have it right now, it would be more than the $64 million that's being requested in the '05 budget request.

SEN. COCHRAN: There is also an indication that you need funding up to $10 million to develop a system of unmanned aerial vehicles to support the border patrol and other components of Customs and border protection. Are you proceeding now to use funds from other sources under your control in order to get moving on this program in connection with the Arizona Border Control initiative, for example?

MR. BONNER: Yes, we are. And in '04 we are proceeding to develop and actually deploy an unmanned aerial vehicle in support of the Arizona Border Control Initiative to better control the Arizona border. And I believe we are going to be able to do that some time by the May/June time frame, actually deploy UAV that will cover and detect along a significant portion of the Arizona border. The funding for this is not in our budget, but we have identified funding through Undersecretary Hutchinson, and the Department of Homeland Security through the science and technology area to essentially pilot and determine how effective a UAV is in terms of detecting, so that in '05 we should be able to have a good understanding of what we nee dot actually deploy on a more permanent basis on the Southwest border at particular critical segments, as well as on our northern borders with Canada.

SEN. COCHRAN: Mr. Garcia, I think the Coast Guard and Air Marine program within your bureau have tested the concept of unmanned aerial vehicles in their operations. Is your experience going to be shared, or will this be communicated to the other agencies, so they'll have the benefit of your understanding and your experience.

MR. GARCIA: Absolutely, as far as the Air Marine goes. We're working down in Arizona, and I'm working very closely with Commissioner Bonner.

SEN. COCHRAN: Senator Byrd. Those were my last two questions.

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