WASHINGTON – Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) continued their series of border security hearings on Wednesday. The hearing, titled “Securing the Border: Fencing, Infrastructure and Technology Force Multipliers,” provided committee members with information on what further steps and resources are needed to help better secure our borders.
Rebecca Gambler, who directs the study of homeland security and justice at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), testified before the committee that “DHS could do a better job of collecting data and developing measures and metrics to assess what contributions they are getting out of different investments – whether that’s fencing or whether or not that’s technology or other assets. What we’ve recommended is that DHS take steps to better collect the data, better develop performance measures and metrics.”
On the subject of better data collection, Johnson brought up a report released Wednesday by the DHS Office of Inspector General that found a failure by DHS to collect and analyze data on the use of prosecutorial discretion. Johnson specifically asked Ronald Vitiello, deputy chief of the U.S. Border Patrol for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, how CBP’s Office of Border Patrol released 650 individuals eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – as indicated in the IG report – if DACA did not apply to those crossing the border today.
Looking for some sort of metric to understand the current security of our border, Johnson asked, “What percent situational awareness do we have?” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson already has testified at previous hearings that his department would not achieve 100 percent situational awareness by the end of the Obama administration.
“We’ve struggled with the idea of defining situational awareness,” Vitiello responded. “How do you measure something that has a different connotation for different environments?”
“So would the position of the Department of Homeland Security be that they would really reject or certainly resist having a piece of legislation where you’ve got that metric of 100 percent situational awareness?” Johnson asked.
“I think we would all enjoy having a defined set of circumstances that says if you have these four criterion methods you do have situational awareness,” Vitiello answered.
Johnson later asked witnesses to comment on fencing at the border: “How effective can fencing be, and what has been the real problem in constructing them?”
Although each type of fencing currently placed at the border has contributed to higher levels of security, implementation has come with challenges, Vitiello told committee members. “It’s a lot more expensive than we expected when we started, and it was much more difficult.” He mentioned flooding, hydrology, takings and condemnations as “part of the history, part of the lessons learned as we went through that process.”
Johnson asked Vitiello to speak to the current interdiction rate of drugs at the border. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, testified before the committee in March that the U.S. is only interdicting 5 percent to 10 percent of illegal drugs. “Do you dispute that estimate? Do you think it’s higher?” Johnson asked Vitiello.
Vitiello answered that he could not dispute the number. “I assume we’re in a small percentage of interdictions that are actually made.”
Testifying alongside Gambler and Vitiello were Randolph Alles, assistant commissioner in the Office of Air and Marine for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner in the Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Anh Duong, director of the Borders and Maritime Security Division for the Directorate of Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security, and Michael Garcia, legislative attorney for the Congressional Research Service at the U.S. Library of Congress.
Chairman Johnson’s full written opening statement can be found here.
The full hearing can be viewed here.