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Infrastructure and Border Security Subcommittee - Dept Homeland Security's Border and Transportation Security Budget Proposal for Fiscal Year 2005

Location: Washington, DC

Federal News Service March 17, 2004 Wednesday






REP. CAMP: The gentleman from Texas, Mr. Smith, is recognized for eight minutes.

REP. LAMAR SMITH (R-TX): Okay, thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Hutchinson, I'd like to ask my first question on behalf of a Texas colleague, Pete Sessions, who is not a member of this committee but who has very much of an interest in your answer. And the question is this. TSA apparently is refusing to help Dallas/Fort Worth Airport pay for explosive detection equipment on a 90 to 10 ratio, as they are required to do by law. Apparently TSA is agreeing to pay on a 75:25 percent reimbursement ratio, but is not providing the 90 percent of the cost of that type of equipment. Why is that?

MR. HUTCHINSON: The original congressional mandate was 75:25, and that's the basis on which our agreements were entered into and the plans were made. I believe it was the FAA reauthorization bill changed that formula to 90:10. Obviously that's problematic because we've moved forward on a 75:25 basis, and you're going to-we're not going to be able to cover as many airports with the online solution. And so we want to cover the maximum number of airports, so obviously we will follow the law, but we are asking that Congress look at taking that back to a 75:25 ratio.

REP. SMITH: I can understand the rationale, but if Congress does not change the law, then you would expect to reimburse at the stated 90:10 ratio?

MR. HUTCHINSON: We would fully comply with the law and whatever the law would require.

REP. SMITH: Okay, thank you, Mr. Secretary.

I'd also like to ask you, and this is a tough question and I'm not sure that there's an easy answer, but is it possible with the current funding levels for you all to accomplish two goals? The first goal is to keep delays at the border and border crossings and the adverse economic impact that might accrue to a minimum, at the same time you are protecting our homeland? Now, those are sometimes conflicting goals, and obviously the top priority is to protect the homeland. But is your proposed funding sufficient to accomplish those two goals?

MR. HUTCHINSON: Yes. The funding that we have at present and with the requests in the '05 budget allows us to balance those two objectives, using technology, new systems to move commerce and add to security, primarily through the US-VISIT program, that as you're very familiar with on the southern border, we're happy to comply with the requirement for the 50 busiest land ports. And we are making appropriate adjustments from the airport solution to the land borders so that we don't clog the borders, but we can add a measure of increased security.

Now, we're also through the fast lanes, the sentry lanes where you have the dedicated travelers with security background checks with a laser card that can move through more rapidly, we're expanding the number of those dedicated lanes. Obviously that's measured out as to how fast we go, I think we're at the right pace.

REP. SMITH: Mr. Secretary, to follow up on that point that I just made, Homeland Security protecting our homeland, I understand that the Department of Homeland Security is considering exempting the holders of border crossing cards from the US-VISIT program. I could understand that if we had readers available at the border to check the identity of those using the border crossing cards. At this point we do not, apparently they are used secondarily in certain instances, but how can we be considering exempting all those individuals from a security check if those readers are not in place?

And let me add to that, that I heard recently that there was a pilot program set up that did check the identities of those with the border crossing cards, and in this small pilot program there were 350 individuals whose IDs were not valid. So when you have that kind of a security gap, that kind of a security loophole, how can we afford to give a pass to individuals and not check their identity?

MR. HUTCHINSON: Well, you're correct, we absolutely have to have the readers deployed. I would say that the border crossing card holders are subjected to a security check.

They have their biometrics taken, they're run through our terrorist databases, they have background checks when they're issued the card. But it is also important to read those cards when they come through to verify identity. The readers I've given direction to be deployed, it's not just a reader but it's a system that backs that up, and those should be in place by the end of June.

REP. SMITH: So you're saying, if I understand you correctly, that the border crossing card holders will not be exempt from the US- VISIT program until there are readers available to check each one of those individuals?

MR. HUTCHINSON: That's correct. Now, I mean, timing wise of course we're making decisions really for the end of the year. And so any exemption for the border crossing card holders from US-VISIT will be an end of the year solution, and before then we will have the readers all in place.

REP. SMITH: And the readers will not be used secondarily? They will be used for every individual coming through?

MR. HUTCHINSON: No, the readers will be deployed in secondary inspection, and so that if an inspector has a question about the identity of a border crossing card it will be referred to secondary inspection.

REP. SMITH: That still, in my mind, leaves a security gap when you're not checking each individual with the reader, as we saw from the pilot program. And I'm just afraid that that's an invitation to some individuals to use a false ID to get in to the country very easily.

MR. HUTCHINSON: You're certainly correct, that the most ideal system would be to have those readers at every primary inspection point, it would just be really impossible to have the flow of people that is necessary for ports of entry and to do it in a fast enough fashion under the present development of that technology.

REP. SMITH: It seems to me that-and this may be a budget question. It seems to me that if you had the funds for a sufficient number of readers you would not delay entry but you would increase security. So is it a budget problem, is that the reason we don't have enough readers?

MR. HUTCHINSON: Well, I'm not sure we have enough readers for every lane at primary inspection. So it might partly be budget, but the primary issue, whether you're talking about US-VISIT or whether you're talking about the border crossing card readers, that means every who comes through, you take their biometrics. And that-if you added 60 seconds for everyone to take that and have it entered and read, it would just really exacerbate the lines.

REP. SMITH: What percentage of the individuals coming across using the border crossing cards would you expect to check on that secondary level with the readers?

MR. HUTCHINSON: I think that it would be significant and it would be sufficient, because the inspectors have got the best judgment of all. First of all you've got a photograph that you can compare to compare identity. If there's any question they go into secondary. And second, I'm sure you'd take a random sample and some verifications so that there would be a huge security value when those readers are in place.

REP. SMITH: Okay. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

REP. CAMP: I thank the gentleman.

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