This morning, I spoke with US Ambassador David Jacobson about the border deal.
First off, for the record, let me say that the ambassador rejects the football analogy – “game of inches” – used in my previous post to describe the incremental progress on border issues that this agreement represents.
Jacobson, a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan, says it’s better to think about progress on the border in terms of baseball:
“For years the Cubs tried to success by getting home-run hitters,” said Jacobson. “But the way you win pennants and – or so they tell me – the World Series, is getting a lot of guys who can hit singles and doubles. This [border agreement] is a collection of singles and doubles and when you add them up you get a Championship. I think this is a more apt analogy.”
I asked him to respond to a few of the other issues:
Q: Who will be in charge of implementing the agreement and ensuring that the deadlines are met? Will there be someone at the White House?
Jacobson: There are different people in charge of the regulatory side and the “Beyond the Border” part. On the regulatory side, it’s Cass Sunstein, head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. On the border side, it is the people who have managed the process so far: Dan Restrepo [Special Assistant to the President and a Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council] and Peggy Cogswell [who heads the Screening Coordination Office at the Department of Homeland Security]. Ultimately, they are acting on behalf of the president of the United States.
This is a process. I flew home last night from Washington and crossed the border and it looked the same as when I flew down to Washington. Nothing changed at the border. But over the next several months and the next several years there will be changes – but only if we follow up on what we committed to yesterday. The Canadian and American people need to hold our feet to the fire.
A: The agreement mentions a May 30, 2012 deadline for coming up with joint privacy protection principles to guide the work under the action plan. Who will be in charge and what kind of input will they seek from the public?
Jacobson: We are already putting out Federal Register notices for the regulatory cooperation piece and the border vision piece. We are informally reaching out and I have already gotten God-knows-how-many telephone calls about this. We are reaching out for input not just on privacy but on everything.
With regard to privacy specifically, I personally feel very strongly about this. There are people who have expressed concerns — both in Canada and in the US — about the need for us to respect privacy. I agree that people should be concerned – and they are concerned on both sides of the border that privacy is honored and respected on both sides of border.
I have spent my whole life defending these issues – the first job I ever had was at ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union]. The president taught on these issues. Americas value these issues as much as Canadians.
Right now every agency in the US that will get access to this information has its own privacy officer. Every agency has an inspector general who is responsible for monitoring these issues and reporting to the president and to Congress. Personal information can only be accessed on a strict need-to-know basis and it is a felony for members of US government to use personal information for improper purposes. These are things we are concerned about.
We protect privacy in different ways – but our values are very much in synch. We want to make sure we give comfort on both sides of the border that privacy and individual rights will be respected in both countries.
There is a person in the White House responsible for this. Canada has a Privacy Commissioner and they will be involved, and privacy officers at each agency will be responsible for working with their counterparts to come up with [the joint statement on privacy protection]. These issues are really important to all of us.
The agreement includes many items that will require funding – from new computer systems to new infrastructure at the border. What can you say about the prospects for funding these items given the fiscal situation in the US and the desire of Congress to cut federal government spending?
Jacobson: Obviously at the moment there are budget issues in the US. What the agreement does is say the expenditures will be handled as part of budget processes in each country on a case by case basis. There is not a lot money to throw around. But some of these things will save money and some of them will cost money. We have to make sure we will implement them on the basis that both countries can afford. One of the things we need to do on both sides is to invest in things that will create jobs and this [agreement] is one of those things that will create jobs. The president spoke quite eloquently about that yesterday. There are some things we need to spend money on. I can’t tell you how much any one thing will cost or how the Congress will allocate the money.
What kind of assurances can you give to Canadians that the effort on regulatory cooperation will not lead to a watering down of health and safety standards, or a movement away from government regulation to self-regulation by industry?
Jacobson: This is not a process of a “race to the bottom” or “we’ll take whichever is the least restrictive” or un-regulating or de-regulating. That is not our intention. People on both sides of the border understand that.
This is about finding inconsistencies in regulations. A lot of those inconsistencies are not questions of stronger or weaker, just different. For example, the size and shape of a label – or the typeface that is used – it’s hard to say that one is more or less stringent. They are just different. If car bumpers have to be a fraction of an inch different in height in each country, for example, it’s a difference that makes North American less competitive.