Opening Statement of Chairman Carper: “Hearing to Consider the Nomination of R. Gil Kerlikowske”

WASHINGTON – Today, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chairman of the Senator Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, participated in the Finance Committee hearing to consider the nomination of R. Gil Kerlikowske to be the Commissioner of Customs, Department of Homeland Security.  For more information or to watch a webcast of the hearing, please click here. Sen. Carper’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing to consider the nomination of Richard Gil Kerlikowske to serve as the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  The Commissioner’s position is one of the most important within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  I hope that this Committee and the Senate can expeditiously approve Mr. Kerlikowske’s nomination.

“As you know, in addition to serving as a member of this Committee, I also serve as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.  As I have reviewed Mr. Kerlikowske’s nomination, I have focused not only on his ability to manage a large and complex agency, but also on his ability to balance CBP’s trade facilitation mission with its critical border security mission.

“If confirmed, Mr. Kerlikowske will not only be responsible for facilitating legitimate travel and trade, but also for securing our land, air and sea borders, as well as stemming the flow of undocumented immigrants. In addition, his duties will include working with other intelligence and law enforcement agencies to identify, target, and apprehend terrorists.

“For many months, I have been concerned that our government has suffered as a result of numerous senior-level vacancies.  At DHS alone, there are currently ten Presidentially-appointed positions without a permanent replacement – and eight of those require Senate confirmation.  I call this ‘Executive Branch Swiss Cheese.’

“With the recent confirmation of Jeh Johnson as Secretary of DHS and Alejandro Mayorkas as Deputy Secretary of DHS, the Senate has taken significant steps to fill two of these vacancies with exceptional leaders.  Today, we have the opportunity to take another badly needed step toward the Senate confirmation of Mr. Kerlikowske.  CBP will undoubtedly benefit from Gil’s leadership.  Indeed, our nation will benefit, as well.

“Gil Kerlikowske is eminently qualified to be the next Commissioner.  He brings a wealth of experience in law enforcement and drug policy to CBP, which will serve him well.  In fact, he has more than 37 years of experience in these areas, including as Chief of Police in two major U.S. cities (Seattle and Buffalo). 

“As the head of one of the Department of Homeland Security’s largest operational components, the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection plays a critical role in leading an agency with a broad mandate to keep Americans safe.  In fact, CBP is charged with deterring, detecting, and stopping terrorists, criminals, undocumented immigrants, weapons of mass destruction, narcotics, agricultural pests, diseases, counterfeit goods, and other dangerous items that attempt to cross our border more frequently than we would like to admit.

“In recent years, CBP has also played a significant role in important counter terrorism investigations.  For example, CBP helped the FBI identify David Coleman Headley, who planned the devastating attacks in Mumbai, India.  CBP also identified, and arrested, Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, as he attempted to flee the country on an airplane.

“CBP is also responsible for patrolling more than 4,000 miles of border with Canada, and almost 2,000 miles of border with Mexico.  CBP has made significant progress securing these borders since 9/11.  We’ve more than doubled the size of the Border Patrol and deployed a variety of technologies to augment the abilities of CBP’s officers and agents. 

“One of my guiding principles, as some of you know, is that everything I do, I know I can do better.  I think the same is true of most of us.  It is also true for the CBP.  For example, I was surprised to learn last year during my trips to our border with Mexico in Arizona and Texas that CBP is flying airplanes that don’t have any cameras or radars—literally they just use spotters with binoculars—to try to identify illegal or suspicious activity on the ground.

“In 2014, that is simply not acceptable.  We need to make sure that our frontline personnel have the technology that they need to work smarter, quicker, and more effectively.  In order to effectively deploy the critical technologies we need on the border – from the radiation detectors at our land and sea ports of entry, to the high-tech radar systems used to detect undocumented immigration – the Commissioner of CBP and his or her senior leadership team must possess highly developed management skills to ensure that their agency will not waste its limited dollars.  I believe that Mr. Kerlikowske has the experience needed to manage these complex and difficult technology programs.

“The Commissioner must also be prepared to work with other federal, state, local, and private sector stakeholders, including law enforcement and intelligence agencies.  He or she must also work closely with the communities along our southern and northern borders, and the companies that import or export trillions of dollars of goods across our air, land, and sea borders every year.

“In short, the Commissioner must be prepared to work cooperatively with a number of actors in order to maintain a strong, layered system of security, while always working to help our economy, and that of our neighbors, grow by expediting legitimate trade and travel.  The Commissioner must also focus on improving and modernizing trade facilitation, which is an important component to implementing a robust trade agenda that creates jobs and strengthens our economies.

“I am confident that Mr. Kerlikowske’s background has prepared him well for this position.  I hope that he is confirmed overwhelmingly, and I look forward to working with him in the coming months and years.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”