Crenshaw Opening Statement at Port of Entry Field Hearing in New Mexico
WASHINGTON – Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), Oversight and Management Accountability Subcommittee ranking member, today delivered the following opening statement at a field hearing at the New Mexico Border Authority in Santa Teresa, New Mexico entitled, “Promoting Safe and Efficient Travel and Trade at America’s Land Ports of Entry.”
Thank you Chairwoman Torres Small for hosting this field hearing and for working with me to find a suitable time so I could take part in this important discussion on ports of entry. Thank you to our two panels of witnesses, I look forward to your hearing your testimony, your expert opinions, and your recommendations.
Customs and Border Protection estimates that approximately 11 million containers arrive by truck and another 2.7 million arrive by rail into the US annually. On an average day, over three hundred fifty thousand vehicles, one hundred thirty five thousand pedestrians and thirty thousand trucks pass through the border crossings in the United States through the 110 land Ports of Entry. CBP is responsible for ensuring the cargo is not hazardous to the American people and that the appropriate duties on the products are collected.
As Members of the Committee on Homeland Security, we understand that border security is essential to our national security. We also understand the vital role that trade and tourism play in our economy. CBP officers at our ports of entry have a critical role to play in keeping our homeland safe as the front line of defense against terrorists and traffickers. They also have a critical role to play in ensuring that legitimate businesses can get the products that they need to operate.
We must ensure CBP has the necessary infrastructure, technology, and staffing to effectively manage our ports of entry. Infrastructure at the ports include processing lanes, buildings with agriculture labs, traveler processing areas, commercial facilities, and holding areas. Technology and tools to assist CBP include Radiation Portal Monitors, Radiation Isotope Identification Devices, Personal Radiation Detectors, Radio Frequency Identification, and Non-Intrusive Inspection technology. All of these tools, in conjunction with appropriate staffing levels, allow CBP to carry out their mission.
CBP is currently conducting a pilot to utilize drive-through technology and facial recognition tools to manage traffic flow and reduce wait times at the land-based ports of entry. CBP is working to incorporate the next generation of technology into its operations. Agents cannot always be in all places at all times, and the right technology gives them the opportunity to target resources. These tools can act as a force multiplier and improve our ability to stop nefarious actors before they enter the United States.
As we face an increase in border trade and traffic, not only must we continue to seek to develop and utilize new and effective technology, but we must also have enough personnel to effectively manage the flow. In recent years, CBP has had trouble meeting its targets for staffing for its law enforcement entities. These staffing shortages create risks to national security, delay commerce, and put additional strain on a stressed workforce.
The lengthy hiring process may be part of the problem, as it includes 11-steps and a background investigation, medical examination, and a polygraph examination. The average length of time to hire an applicant in 2018 was 300 days for a CBP officer. Even the most dedicated individuals could be discouraged by such a long delay.
One of the biggest barriers to bringing on talent in recent years appears to be the polygraph process, which appears to have an unusually high failure rate. To address this, I have introduced legislation to attract veterans, state and local law enforcement, and other federal law enforcement officers to CBP by allowing the polygraph to be waived for these individuals if they possess the appropriate clearances. I am hopeful this will speed up the hiring process and allow CBP to get officers in place at ports of entry more quickly.
CBP is responsible for protecting the safety and security of the country by preventing traffickers and terrorists from gaining entry through our borders. It is not an easy job. I have the utmost respect for the men and women who do this difficult job. I want to make sure that they have the resources they need to purchase effective technology and update their infrastructure and attract and retaining talent. I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses on the best ways to achieve that goal.