New Congress: Changes at the U.S. Borders
In a major blow to the Bush administration’s efforts to secure borders, domestic security officials have for now given up on plans to develop a facial or fingerprint recognition system to determine whether a vast majority of foreign visitors leave the country, officials say.
But in recent days, officials at the Homeland Security Department have conceded that they lack the financing and technology to meet their deadline to have exit-monitoring systems at the 50 busiest land border crossings by next December. A vast majority of foreign visitors enter and exit by land from Mexico and Canada, and the policy shift means that officials will remain unable to track the departures.
A report released on Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, restated those findings, reporting that the administration believes that it will take 5 to 10 years to develop technology that might allow for a cost-effective departure system.
Domestic security officials, who have allocated $1.7 billion since the 2003 fiscal year to track arrivals and departures, argue that creating the program with the existing technology would be prohibitively expensive.
They say it would require additional employees, new buildings and roads at border crossings, and would probably hamper the vital flow of commerce across those borders.
Congress ordered the creation of such a system in 1996.
In an interview last week, the assistant secretary for homeland security policy, Stewart A. Baker, estimated that an exit system at the land borders would cost “tens of billions of dollars” and said the department had concluded that such a program was not feasible, at least for the time being.
“It is a pretty daunting set of costs, both for the U.S. government and the economy,” Mr. Stewart said. “Congress has said, ‘We want you to do it.’ We are not going to ignore what Congress has said. But the costs here are daunting.
“There are a lot of good ideas and things that would make the country safer. But when you have to sit down and compare all the good ideas people have developed against each other, with a limited budget, you have to make choices that are much harder.”
I like the trade-off sentiment of that quote.
Item #2: The new Congress is — wisely, I should add — unlikely to fund the 700-mile fence along the Mexican border.
Item #3: I hope they examine the Coast Guard’s security failures and cost overruns.
Item #4: Note this paragraph from the last article:
During a drill in which officials pretended that a ferry had been hijacked by terrorists, the Coast Guard and the Federal Bureau of Investigation competed for the right to take charge, a contest that became so intense that the Coast Guard players manipulated the war game to cut the F.B.I. out, government auditors say.
Seems that there are still serious turf battles among government agencies involved with terrorism. It would be nice if Congress spent some time on this (actually important) problem.