Testimony – Border Technology

Statement by U.S. Chamber Vice President for Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits Randel Johnson submitted for a joint hearing of the Senate Subcommittees on Terrorism, Technology, and Government Information and Border Security, Immigration, and Citizenship of the Senate Judiciary on “Border Technology: Keeping Terrorists Out of the United States — 2003”

March 12, 2003

It is my pleasure to offer this statement on behalf of the United States Chamber of Commerce for the record of the joint hearing of the Senate Subcommittees on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information and Border Security, Immigration and Citizenship of the Senate Judiciary on “Border Technology: Keeping Terrorists Out of the United States — 2003,” held on March 12, 2003.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation, representing more than three million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region. The Chamber’s members include numerous businesses in the travel, trade and transportation industries and also includes in its federation state and local chambers of commerce representing thousands of communities along our borders. Thus, the Chamber has a keen interest in ensuring both the security and the efficient operation of our ports of entry for legitimate commerce and travel. This interest led the Chamber to found the Americans for Better Borders (ABB) coalition, which includes regional business organizations and a wide array of companies and national trade associations representing manufacturing, hospitality, tourism, transportation, recreation, and other industry sectors to work to ensure the efficient flow of goods and people across our borders while addressing national security concerns.

I am also proud to serve as the Chamber’s representative to the Data Management Improvement Act Task Force. This Task Force was created by the Data Management Improvement Act of 2000 as a public-private task force to examine the development and implementation of an entry-exit system at our borders and the improvement of operations of our ports of entry and borders. The Task Force was established in 2001 by the Attorney General and commenced its work in February 2002. It is the only group tasked with examining our border operations that includes multiple agencies of the Federal Government, representatives from state and local governments and the private sector. The Task Force completed and delivered its first report to Congress in January 2003, and its next report is due at the end of this year.

During the course of our work over the past year, the Task Force received briefings from government representatives and stakeholders at all levels regarding the challenges and opportunities present in the development of an entry-exit system and the use of technology to improve the operation of our ports of entry. The task force took a realistic look at both the information systems and technology challenges as well as the logistical, infrastructure, and other challenges and heard the concerns of the affected communities and businesses. It was a sobering year.

Our borders and ports of entry are responsible each day for the transaction of more than $6 billion in international trade (almost $2 billion at the land borders alone), the entry of more than 1 million visitors, and the inspection of more than 300,000 vehicles. In addition to the trade volume, the international visitors add $82 billion to the U.S. economy each year. On September 10, 2001, our ports of entry were already exceeding their capacity to process this volume – serious delays and deficits in infrastructure and resources were already in existence. On September 11, it became clear that the security of our borders was also inadequate to meet the new challenges.

However sobering, the Task Force report presents a realistic view of the needs of our borders and ports of entry for infrastructure, systems, processes, and resources to provide both security and efficiency. The Chamber strongly believes that we cannot afford a trade-off between these two goals. As important as our national security, is our economic security, which is the underpinning for our ability to support our national security needs, and is also the very system we are trying to protect.

We are pleased to note the consistent statements of President Bush, Secretary Ridge, Undersecretary Hutchinson, and others in the Administration of the need to balance these dual goals. How this is to be accomplished is less clear, but the use of technology is a necessity if we are to even attempt it.

However, technology is not the complete solution. Not only are the challenges of developing technologies that are appropriate in the widely divergent locations in which our ports of entry operate significant, the infrastructures necessary for their successful implementation are, in many cases, nonexistent. For example, the development of a comprehensive entry-exit system would require exit inspections. The United States currently has no infrastructure in place to conduct exit inspections at our more than 160 land ports of entry.

The U.S. Chamber is strongly supportive of efforts to ensure that we are adequately screening cargo and travelers at our ports of entry to prevent entry of those who would do us harm. We are also mindful of the need to keep legitimate travel and commerce moving as we accomplish this.

To that end, we support the recommendations of the DMIA Task Force regarding implementation of an entry-exit system and overall improvement in border operations. We would therefore request that the First Annual Report of the Data Management Improvement Act Task Force, and its recommendations, be made a part of the record of proceedings for this hearing.

We are also concerned, that as the functions of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service are transferred to the Department of Homeland Security, that the important work of the Task Force not be overlooked.

Since the work of the Task Force encompasses immigration and customs issues as well as related transportation issues, it would seem appropriate for this body to report directly to the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security. Therefore, we strongly believe that the Task Force should report to the Secretary of Homeland Security and be chaired by Undersecretary Hutchinson. We believe that only thorough cooperation and coordination of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration and other functions in the Border and Transportation Security Directorate, can we achieve the level of security and efficiency at our borders that is required for our safety and economy.

We look forward to working closely with your committees as we seek to ensure a safe and prosperous United States.