Today Candice Miller, a Republican congresswoman from Michigan who chairs the Border and Maritime Security subcommittee of the House Committee on Homeland Security, held a hearing looking into the GAO report that said the Department of Homeland Security has “operational control” of only 32 miles of the US-Canada border.
The Chief of the US Customs and Border Patrol, Michael Fisher, said that the way DHS has been measuring “operational control” is “outdated” because it does not reflect partnership (such as with Canadian law enforcement agencies) and does not reflect the heavy use of technology.
After the hearing, I spoke briefly with Rep. Miller, who chaired the hearing, about the Harper-Obama “perimeter security” vision and the GAO report:
Q: What do you expect from the vision on perimeter security? What do you think will come out of it? It seems like a vague notion right now.
A: It is vague. As we think about what our GAO report was about, some of the challenges we have along the northern border from a security, operational control perspective, we always have to keep in mind that Canada is our best ally, our biggest trading partner, our friends and our neighbours, and as we look to border security, we obviously need to recognize that we have a very huge interest, a priority interest in making sure that commerce and passengers can travel across our borders expeditiously. Thickening of the border is an issue we must always keep upmost in our minds.
Q: What results do you want to see out of this vision? How does it translate into changes on the ground?
A: First of all, the US-Canadian agreement called for a working committee. I’m not quite certain who’s going to be on the working committee, and where they are going with their entire work product. We hope – not only myself, but I’m sure other members of this committee and other members of Congress – will want to have some input into what they’re putting together.
As I say, I think we have to be cognizant of the ability to expedite commerce. For instance, in the sector I’m most familiar with, in the Detroit sector, where we have such a long liquid border with Canada. One of the things that have worked well, that we could expand, I think, is something called Shiprider. That has been a wonderful program between the US and Canada, relatively new, that I think could have a great expansion where both nations feel a great level of security by that.
Q: A big expansion to where?
A: They could utilize throughout the entire Great Lakes basin. Use it more. Use it as a component, perhaps, for measuring operational control.
Q: On that GAO report, is the definition of “operational control” too narrow?
A: That was the thrust of this hearing. One of the things we have found here is that our Customs and Border Patrol is using a different level of measurement than our law has actually called for. That’s what happens with these hearings. All of a sudden you uncover something else that sends you in a different direction. One of my concerns is that they are not weighing as a measurement component, heavily enough on technology. This is something that has to be utilized heavily on the northern border. We’re not going to build a fence.
Q: And they’re not counting what Canada does, yet this is a partnership.
A: For example, Shiprider is a great program and I’m not sure they are using that in their measurement matrix. I didn’t see it in the GAO report.
Q: It sounds like maybe they are missing pieces of the bigger picture.
A: I think so.
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