Appropriations panel targets Bush border security plan
With the occasionally heated focus on the Bush administration's ambitious Secure Border Initiative, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Ralph Basham never got a chance to discuss most of his agency's $10.2 billion fiscal 2008 budget request. Basham and Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar had to deal with skeptical questions from Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Price, D-N.C., and more pointed challenges from Reps. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., and Sam Farr, D-Calif.
Price asked repeatedly for detailed explanations of how much of the nearly 2,000 mile border with Mexico was to be protected by fencing to stop individuals, or auto barriers and sensors. And he wondered if the $2.5 billion that would be spent by the end of fiscal 2008 was the best use of taxpayers' money.
"At the end of the day, our goal must be to control who enters our country and our means to achieve that goal must be what works," Price said.
Basham and his deputies gave Price a breakdown of the expected coverage of a tall "anti-pedestrian" fence, vehicle barriers and virtual fencing.
"The bottom line, about 970 miles we will have effective control of by the end of fiscal 2008," Aquilar said.
Basham said the initiative would help the agency "keep terrorists and terrorists' weapons from entering the United States."
But Serrano noted that the agency could not cite a single terrorist or weapon apprehended at the Southwestern border, while the 19 terrorists who hijacked the airliners used in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and other would-be terrorists came across the Canadian border, which would receive no additional protection under SBI. And Farr said none of the local government officials he has talked to along the border support the fence.
Basham said additional security was going to the Northern border and noted that the administration does support a guest worker program. Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Harold Rogers, R-Ky., expressed support for the SBI program but noted that the subcommittee's effort when he was chairman had improved.
Almost overlooked in the debate over the fencing issue, Richard Stana, director of Homeland Security and Justice issue for the Government Accountability Office, said the agency's contact with Boeing to integrate the complex SBI program still lacked specifics on quantity of the work and said it had to be modified to conform to federal contracting rules.
Basham disagreed, arguing that the contract did specify what Boeing was to produce.