Homeland Security Subcommittee Hearing On The DHS Fiscal Year 2009 Budget
Questions of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee
Hearing On The FY 2009 DHS Budget Request
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
The Northern Border has been chronically understaffed for years, and we saw tremendous backups at our border crossings during last summer’s tourist season – sometimes hours of unnecessary wait time – because DHS lacked the workforce to open every lane. I am very concerned that in addition to implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative next June, the new document requirements you imposed at the border in January will further strain our resources and officers.
The Customs and Border Protection’s own staffing allocation models and a recent GAO report state that nationwide CBP needs “up to several thousand additional CBP Officers and Agricultural Specialists at its ports of entry.” The President’s budget, though, includes funding for only 234 additional officers at land borders and 295 positions for Radiation Portal Monitoring staffing. This staffing increase requested is fewer than two additional CBP Officers at each air, land, and seaport.
When CBP Assistant Commissioner Thomas Winkowski was in Vermont last August, he said that at least eight new agents would be assigned to Vermont – even though the actual number of CBP officers needed is estimated to be around 60. So far, though, no new agents have come.
- When will they be coming? What steps are you taking to address the CBP officer staffing shortages – particularly along the Northern Border? And when will you have full staffing at all of our 326 official ports of entry?
- In addition, we understand that DHS missed its promised target of Border Patrol agents on the Northern Border by as many as 100. What is DHS doing to fill these authorized positions?
As you may recall, DHS established a temporary checkpoint on Interstate 91 in Hartford, Vermont, from December 2003 to May 2005. While we occasionally heard about CBP making a drug-bust or identifying an expired visa there, it seemed to me that the checkpoint did far more to harass law-abiding Vermonters than to protect their security. And I was not the only person who felt this way. Former Republican Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, criticized the Hartford checkpoint as an unnecessary government intrusion.
After DHS dismantled the temporary checkpoint three years ago, I discovered that the department had begun quietly conducting a feasibility study to see whether it should build a permanent checkpoint on I-91 – a permanent Border Patrol station nearly 100 miles from the actual border. I asked you about this stunning development at a March 2006 appropriations oversight hearing very much like this one today. When I finally received a written response from you five months later – in August of 2006 – you said: “The results of the study and any decisions on project advancement will be shared with your office through CBP’s Office of Congressional Affairs.”
Well, imagine my surprise when I cracked open the President’s budget proposal last month and saw a $4 million request for planning the installation of permanent border checkpoints – plural – in the Swanton Sector. Like many Vermonters, I have serious concerns about constructing permanent checkpoints in Vermont. We all want to keep our country safe, but we also want to make sure that in fighting illegal activity we do not burden Americans in the exercise of their constitutionally protected rights.
- How many checkpoints do you propose building in the Swanton sector – and where would they be located?
- We have heard a lot about how your resources are stretched thin and you cannot have people everywhere along the border. What sense does it make to deploy Border Patrol agents permanently to an Interstate checkpoint in Vermont that is a hundred miles from the actual border – especially when the Border Patrol claims not to have the resources to guard the neighborhood streets along the border of Derby Line, Vermont, and Stansted, Quebec?
- Can you explain the usefulness of these checkpoints for apprehending immigration violators when there are numerous roads that circumvent the Interstates in both areas?
LAW ENFORCEMENT STATUS OF CBP OFFICERS
Last year, Congress passed the Law Enforcement Officers Equity Act to grant federal law enforcement officer status to all Customs and Border Protection agents. Our hardworking CPB officers deserve this status, and the change was long overdue.
I was disappointed to see that in his Fiscal Year 2009 budget request, the President asked Congress to repeal this legislation and rescind the $50 million funding that was provided to begin the program in July 2008.
While this administration has made it clear that this program is not a priority, recent GAO testimony has shown the importance of such a program for officer retention. According to the GAO, “CBP data shows that, on average, 52 CBP Officers left the agency each 2-week pay period in fiscal 2007…CBP Officers are leaving the agency to take positions at other DHS components and other federal agencies to obtain law enforcement officer benefits not authorized to them at CBP.” This is precisely why Congress made this statutory change, and why it should not be rescinded or repealed.
- Does DHS intend to comply with the new law? Is CBP going forward with implementation of Section 535 so that it is in effect on July 6, 2008, as authorized by Congress?
- Has the OMB directed you to cease efforts to implement this program authorized and funded by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008?
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Press ContactDavid Carle: 202-224-3693