Floor Statement – Sen. Gregg
7/10/2006, Floor Statement by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) upon consideration of H.R. 5441, the FY 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations Act
Mr. GREGG. Mr. President, today we begin consideration of the Homeland Security appropriations bill. I begin by thanking the members of the Committee on Appropriations for helping bring the bill out of committee. It was brought out unanimously.
I especially thank the ranking member of the committee and the senior Senator from the State of West Virginia, but also the senior Senator in the Senate, Senator Byrd, for his support and efforts as ranking member not only of this subcommittee but of the full committee, of course, and his role in authoring and designing this bill. It has been very constructive. Obviously, he does not agree with everything in it. That is inevitable, especially with the allocation we were equipped with, but his help has been significant in moving the bill forward.
I also thank Senator Cochran who, once again, has been extremely tolerant of this subcommittee–not only tolerant but supportive. He was put in a very difficult position by the administration in the manner in which they sent up their budget in this area, in that they put in a plug number of about $1.4 billion, a number that everyone knew was not going anywhere. They knew it wasn’t going anywhere when they sent it up here. It didn’t go anywhere last year when they sent the same number up here, a number they claimed they could support by increasing the fees on airline travel, and then taking those moneys and putting them to the border. It was a concept which has been rejected by the Congress before. They knew it would be rejected this time.
They used it basically as a stalking horse to claim expenditures which were not then supported by funding. The reason it is not supported is that it makes no sense to raise the fee on airline passengers for security purposes on airlines and then take that money and put it into the border activity. We have significant fees on airline passengers today. That money is used primarily for TSA and FAA in order to assist in making sure our air traffic is secure. It is an appropriate fee. An increase at this time, which is not related to airline traffic, makes little sense.
Senator Cochran was confronted with a situation with this bill where he basically had to find about $1.4 billion in order to reach the President’s level of funding, that the President asked for Homeland Security without any real way to do that except to take it from other accounts. He was very generous with this committee. He was not able to do the full amount, but he did a significant amount, and we very much appreciate his support. He used to be chairman of the subcommittee when it first started and he understands the needs.
The issue of the Homeland Security Department is almost a Dickins story because it takes a lot of twists and turns. Some of it is not very pretty. Some of it is good. Some of it is not. The problem we have is that the Department was put together in haste. A lot of different agencies that had a lot of different cultures, some of which were doing their tasks very well–such as the Coast Guard and the Secret Service–were put into the Department, and others which had always had a problem, a structural problem such as immigration, were put into the Department. Then new responsibility was put on the Department with a new focus.
Every agency theoretically within the Department is primarily focused on the issue of national security and protecting us from an attack such as September 11, but within the agency, in order to have continuity of activity, there were departments put into it which did not have as their primary purpose Homeland Security.
The most significant example of that, of course, is FEMA, which basically deals with disasters. Most of the disasters it deals with involve natural disasters, which obviously are not a function of terrorist activity, although it is, obviously, also a lead agency should we have a terrorist event such as occurred on September 11. FEMA played a major role there and did a very good job, by the way. FEMA’s management of post-September 11 issues was handled with excellence.
The Department has a lot of different functions within it. It has now been going for about 3 1/2 years. I have had the good fortune to chair this committee for about 2 years. It is pretty obvious the Department has not yet shaken out all the problems it has. In fact, the problems keep coming at us relative to management.
I asked my staff to take a look at the Department and all the reviews that have been done by outside groups which we basically sanction, such as the Inspector General and the GAO and other accounting agencies which go in and take a look at functions of the Federal Government and conclude whether those functions are being done well.
Homeland Security probably leads the Government in the number of reviews that have been done because it is a new agency and because there are problems obviously. I asked my staff to put together a list of all the different reviews and tie those lists to the management chart of the Department so that we could see just how much the Department has and has not accomplished in the area of reviews. It became an overwhelming task. They put together the chart, but there were so many reviews that had occurred that essentially they had to just summarize by numbers the different reviews.
This is the management chart of the Department of Homeland Security. For example, there have been seven reviews of the chief financial officer. All of them have concluded system failures. The Under Secretary for Management has had eight reviews that have concluded a lack of plan; six reviews, systems management failures; and one review that said there was a mismanagement of funds.
Regarding the Chief Information Officer, the conclusion is that IT management has been lacking in 18 different reviews.
On and on it goes. Of course, the grand prize winner, regrettably, is FEMA, which has had 180 major reviews by GAO or the inspector general or other sources of significant credibility–180 reviews have concluded the process has failed, and 7 reviews have concluded that management controls have failed. In fact, there is such a current problem of mismanagement and ineptness that this chart cannot be kept up to date, regrettably.
Just today we have gotten our most recent review, again, by the Government Accounting Office. They conclude with the US VISIT Program: Contract management and oversight for the Visitor and Immigration Status Program needs to be strengthened. This is US VISIT, an absolutely critical program we have. We have had six reviews of US VISIT of this depth, and all of them have concluded there are significant concerns.
To take an example of the depth of the problem with this Department, agency by agency, there was a review of Federal Protective Services which basically said they lacked strategic planning, that they had no structure for strategic planning in July of 2004, that they needed to enter into an immediate understanding with GSA as to what they should be doing relative to planning and how they should be resolving billing issues within that Department. On and on the report went, with very specific ideas as to how to improve the Department.
As of today, virtually nothing has happened in the Federal Protective Services Agency to try to correct the problems enumerated in the 2004 GAO report.
What is the result of that? The result is that the Federal Protective Services Agency has a $42 million structural deficit, which they do not have any idea how they will correct.
That is just one slice of this overall pie which, regrettably, is the Department of Homeland Security. This is not to say that the Department does not have very conscientious, hard-working, dedicated public servants. It does. It has a panoply of them–those folks who are on the front lines on the border, whether they are immigration officers or border agents, the people in TSA who are working very hard to try to straighten out the lines in the airport and still provide security, the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, FEMA people trying to answer the problems of a small flood or issues with what happened in New Orleans. These people are all working very hard, but there is a systematic failure within this Department which is massive. It is, unfortunately, permeating the entire Department. It has to be of significant concern to us as a Congress.
Just a recent report estimated that maybe as much as $18 billion–that is a staggering number–$18 billion of the money we spent on Katrina has been misallocated, they believe fraudulently handled, but, clearly, it did not get the results they were supposed to get. Whether it was a trailer sitting in a field somewhere that never got used or whether it was debit cards used to buy bedding, the fact is that is potentially $18 billion.
I cannot believe the number is that big. I think that has to be an overestimate. There is no way that size number could have been mismanaged. But say it is half; say it is $9 billion. Do you know what we could do with $9 billion in this country today? We could do a lot of good things. Just in this Department alone, if we had $9 billion focused on the Coast Guard and on Border Patrol and immigration, an infusion of that type of money–I had to pull teeth to get an extra $1.9 billion in the last supplemental. If we got $9 billion, we could make sure our borders were secure and no one could come into the country illegally. The number of people coming into the country illegally would dry up if we had those resources for the borders. It is a real issue with real implications.
All the reports are not just paper documents. They all mean taxpayers’ dollars are not being used effectively. Even though the people on the front lines are trying their hardest, there are issues that have to be addressed. The main thing we are saying to this agency, this Department–and I know they are trying hard, I know the Secretary is trying hard, everyone down there is trying hard–somehow we have to get ahold of this. We have to get some management structure so we do not get this constant flow of failure, of review.
The way this committee has tried to do it is essentially to try to prioritize. We essentially said: There are some things we have to do right. Even in the context of all these problems we have, we have to do some things right. The first thing we have to do right is to address the threat. The threat, obviously, is weapons of mass destruction. The potential of a weapon of mass destruction being used in America is the single biggest threat we have as a nation today. It is real.
It is regrettable that there are a number of people in the country, especially the press, who do not take it seriously, but it is a serious problem which we have as a nation because there are, unfortunately, people out there who are fundamentally evil who genuinely believe their way to a fuller life and a great existence is to essentially kill hundreds, potentially thousands, of Americans and try to destroy Western culture. That is their purpose. These people are sophisticated. They have the capacity, if given the wherewithal, to use a weapon that could do massive damage to our Nation. We cannot underestimate this threat simply because we have gotten through 4 years.
Let me congratulate those who work on the front line. As I said, there are some hard-working, committed people. Four years of hard work have kept us free from an attack, and that, I guess, is the bottom line. So maybe my statement before was a bit harsh because you have to congratulate the success in the fact that we have not been attacked in the last 4 years. But the documentation is also real that we have real issues with this Department. But if we are to continue to be successful in thwarting a weapon of mass destruction attack, we must put resources in those areas. But they must be used effectively.
We have the Science and Technology Directorate of this group. They have no plan, as far as we can tell. They want more money, and I would be happy to give them more money. I would be enthusiastic about putting more money into their operations if I felt there was some sort of coherent plan as to what they were going to do with those funds. In fact, it is just the opposite. You get just the opposite feeling from the Science and Technology Directorate.
You have the NMDS, the nuclear detection group, which is working hard. They are up and running in Nevada. They are trying to develop systems. Well, they started from nothing. Basically, they wanted a lot of money to get started. We asked that they give us some directions as to how they were going to do that, and they have started to do that. So they are moving on the right path. But what we basically said is: We will give you the money as you produce the plan that produces the results.
We have to be ready for a domestic nuclear event, and we have to try to stop it before it happens. But it also has to be done in a coherent and comprehensive way rather than an illogical way or in a way that appears to be haphazard. There is progress being made there. That is where we want to focus our dollars, quite honestly. We want to focus our dollars in this effort. I have been joined by Senator Byrd in trying to address the weapons of mass destruction threat. That is the No. 1 thing.
The second thing we want to focus on and we have tried to focus on is the issue of border security because you really have to know who is coming into the country if you are going to be able to claim you have addressed the issue of threat. Because, sure, there are homegrown terrorists in America, unfortunately. There is no question about it. But we also know there are an awful lot of people out there–and we saw it again just this week–primarily coming out of the Mideast but also out of Southeast Asia, who want to do us harm and whose purpose is to do us harm–and they are open about it— who have put out epistles to their followers that their cause should be to attack America and Americans within and outside of our country.
So we really need to know who is coming across our borders. And then, of course, we have the secondary issue, which is we have a large number of people coming into our country illegally who wish us no harm. In fact, it is just the opposite. They wish to take advantage of the American dream, to get a job and support their families. They come here to get work–and especially across the southern border–but they are coming here illegally, and that is not appropriate. So we need to get control over our borders.
So about 2 years ago, when I took over this job, of being in charge of this committee, we started to ramp up significantly our commitment to border security. With this bill, should this bill be successful and be passed, we will have increased the number of border agents by 40 percent; we will have increased the number of detention beds by about 30 percent; we will have dramatically increased our commitment to the Coast Guard; we will have dramatically increased our commitment to ICE; and we will have put in place and started up the US-VISIT Program, which I still have reservations about as to how effective it is going to be, but it seems to be moving in the right direction and people are working hard on it. Our purpose has been to retool the borders so we can be sure within a few years we can control the borders.
Now, I happen to be of the belief that we should put this on the fast track. It should not be 5 years from now, it should be next year. But that has not happened, primarily because of resources. However, we have made dramatic strides in this area.
Now, there has been a disagreement here between ourselves and the administration on this point. In fact, when we brought our first budget forward, which significantly increased the number of border agents by about 1,000–actually 1,500 when you coupled the supplemental with the bill–we were strongly resisted by the administration because we took money out of other accounts–primarily State and local first responder funds–and moved it over to Border Patrol. We did the same thing to add the detention beds. That was done with the support of the Senate and, in the end, with the support of the House. That was a success. It was such a success, in fact, that now the administration claims it was their idea, even though at the time they opposed it.
Now, we have tried to move forward. This year, we put $1.9 billion into the supplemental to try to address the capital needs of the border issue, such as the aircraft, the fact that our aircraft we are flying down there are 40 years over their useful life, the helicopters are 20 years over their useful life; the fact that the Coast Guard is on a program of building coastal security capability, but it is on a program that won’t build out until 2023, and we think that should be accelerated to 2015; the fact that we only had one unmanned vehicle on the southern border–or anywhere on the borders, for that matter–and that one unmanned vehicle crashed, and we need to replace it and add more. And we have a lot of technology needs and also just plain old-fashioned cars and desks and training capability, things we felt we needed on the capital side.
Well, as to that idea, although the Congress thought it made sense, the administration did not. They took the number and converted it. We are happy to have the money. Initially, the Department was not even happy to have the money, but they took the money, and they converted it to operational needs, adding another 1,000 agents, adding another 4,000 beds, adding operational costs, and also some capital needs. I think the helicopters were covered. The planes were not upgraded. There were unmanned vehicles that would be purchased. So that was a point of disagreement, but at least we were on the right track.
But the practical effect of that bill was we created what is known as a fiscal tail, which meant that as you added operational costs in the supplemental, you had to add additional money in the main bill in order to pay for the operational needs which would be ongoing, which meant that the basic bill was stressed, first because it did not have full funding because of the $1.4 billion hold that was put in it by the setting up of a fee system, which everybody knew was not going to work, and secondly because of the tail that came out of this supplemental, which meant we had to pick up about $600 million of cost we had not planned to pick up in this bill in order to maintain the costs which had been put in the supplemental, which we felt should have, instead, been capital costs rather than operational costs.
So the practical effect of that gets us to this bill we have today, which is a bill which continues the movement toward securing the borders but does not do it in as robust a way as I would like. I am not going to be disingenuous about it. I am not going to come to the floor and say this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It is not. It is a step in the right direction. And because of Senator Cochran’s and Senator Byrd’s support in getting a bigger allocation in this bill than it might have appropriately gotten in light of what was sent up by the administration, it is a fairly significant step. It adds an additional 1,000 agents. It adds an additional 1,000 detention beds. But that means we are still short of where we need to be. Even though we have increased agents by 40 percent and detention beds by 30 percent, we are still way short of where we need to be to be able to say, with confidence, we are going to be able to stop the people who are coming across our borders, especially our southern border, in the near term, detain them, and make sure the bad ones are sent back and the other folks are put through some system that works.
That brings us to another issue involving border security, which is this whole question of immigration reform. There is no question in my mind that you cannot get substantive long-term border control unless you have immigration reform, which means some sort of guest worker program for people who want to come here and work. People who are getting paid $5 a day in Mexico and can make $50 a day in the United States, who have a family to feed, are going to come to the United States. That is just human nature. That is what they are going to do. That is what they have to do in order to survive and take care of their families. We have to come up with a way where those people can come across our borders and we will know who they are, why they are here, where they are going, and where they are working.
Now, the Senate has passed an immigration bill, which I voted for, and the House has passed an immigration bill. But the conference process does not seem to be going forward very well. Well, the bill here, ironically, sets out some parameters which might help move this whole thing along, if we want to do a comprehensive immigration bill.
I think there is general consensus developing around here to a concept which was put forward by Senator Isakson of Georgia during the immigration debate that we should have a trigger mechanism, basically, which would essentially say: When you accomplish these goals in the area of border security, then you can move to the next step in the area of bringing along a guest worker program.
What this bill does is basically give us some pretty specific ideas as to what those goals should be. What should be the ascertainable standards which we should set that need to be accomplished and, if and when accomplished, should kick in a guest worker program? And there are a couple of ideas of how you approach the guest worker program, but the ascertainable standards are really pretty obvious. They first should be definite. They cannot be vague. They cannot be standards which are gameable. But if you look at what we need on the border, you do not need vagueness. You can be pretty precise. In fact, you can get right down to the numbers.
If we had 20,000 border agents, we know we would have the necessary border agents. If we had about 40,000 detention beds–that doesn’t mean firm beds. There are lots of ways to do detention beds. You could use old military bases. You could use present military bases. But if you had the capacity to hold up to 40,000 people who come across our borders illegally, that would give you the necessary numbers to do the process. If you had about five to nine UAVs, depending on whether you were going to use UAVs on the northern border, that would be a number that was ascertainable. If you had a Coast Guard build-out which said it would be completed by the year 2015, that would be a number that would be ascertainable. Those are numbers you could put in. If you had a US-VISIT Program that met certain standards, so that when a person comes across the border they get fingerprinted in a way that would allow the FBI database to be actually activated in real time, that would be an ascertainable standard. And if you had a readable employment card that had biometrics as its base, that would be an ascertainable standard.
If you just did those items as your ascertainable standards, you would have in place what is necessary to put forward an effective border security commitment. And you could follow that, when those had been reached–and they could be reached in a very short time if you wanted to put the resources in it; this is not years, this could be reached very quickly–you could put forward a guest worker program which could follow on rather quickly. I have ideas as to how the guest worker program should work, and other people do, but there certainly is a way to do it that makes sense and is fair to people who want to come into this country and work for a living, even those who are already here illegally, without creating amnesty. So this bill sets out, basically, parameters for accomplishing that. It gives a path that could be followed to accomplish that goal, and I hope it will be supported for that reason.
As I have said, the bill is not everything we need, and the Department is not clearly where we need to have it. But in the context of the resources which were available to us, this bill is very much a step in the right direction. It will add significantly to the number of border agents.
It will add significantly to the number of detention beds. When you combine it with the supplemental, there will be 2,000 new border agents and 5,000 new beds. It puts in place some of the mechanisms to try to make sure the technology is appropriately addressed.
The place where it is most lacking, to be fair in disclosure, is with the Coast Guard because the Coast Guard buildout remains a 2023 exercise under this bill versus what should have been a 2015 buildout exercise. That is unfortunate. Had we gotten what we needed in the supplemental, we could have changed that. We didn’t. So we will come back to that issue. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other supplementals floating through here and the Coast Guard has a fair and legitimate claim on funds for national defense in those supplementals; if not, in the next appropriations rounds.
So that is where we stand today. It is a bill on the right track. It doesn’t solve all the problems. It deals with an agency which is trying hard, with good people, committed to the purpose of protecting us but an agency which has very significant issues of management and systems controls.
I appreciate the courtesy of the Senate in listening to me for this length of time. I especially appreciate the courtesy of the Senator from West Virginia for his constructive efforts and his help in bringing the legislation this far.
I yield the floor.