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Homeland Security Today: McCain, McCaul Press for Border Security Metrics

Homeland Security Today — By Mickey McCarter

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security toured the Southwest border Monday ahead of a scheduled tour by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano Tuesday.

McCain, who has been calling for stronger border security measures within his support of a comprehensive immigration reform bill, took to Twitter during the tour to spotlight his meetings and to hint at the sort of measures he might seek — measures echoed by a framework unveiled by House homeland security committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) last week.

"Good briefing from Border Patrol at Tucson Sector HQ. We've made progress but more work needed to secure our border," McCain tweeted. A little later, he added, "Heard some straight talk from AZ ranchers in Douglas — their everyday challenges show much work ahead to secure border."

Lawmakers have lamented that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) abandoned a measure of border security known as "operational control" within the past several years. Without the measure of operational control or similar metrics, DHS has not been able to report on gains in border security in a way that can be measured.

McCain repeated that sentiment during his border tour, suggesting that he might seek to implement border security metrics through an act of Congress.

"I admire the hard work of our Border Patrol agents — we also need clear performance metrics to measure security gains," he tweeted.

McCain also expressed an interest in adding more security infrastructure to the Southwest border.

"Since 2006, just 351 miles of pedestrian fencing was built along SW border. More is needed to finish securing border," McCain said on Twitter.

McCain toured the border with McCaul and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

On Feb. 13, McCaul released guiding principles for border security legislation that he intends to introduce in the near future. He listed those principles as "gain situational awareness using advanced technologies, to formulate useable metrics, while eliminating agency overlap (SAFE)."

In an opening statement to a hearing he held that day, McCaul elaborated, "Increasingly, DHS has the opportunity to use existing technologies returning from theaters of war that make securing our border cheaper and easier than ever before. Consequently, as we embark on immigration reform we must be mindful that the first step is to control our border — and I will be introducing legislation to accomplish that goal.

"I have developed a framework for legislation to compel the Department, and its components, to create and implement a strategy to control our borders that includes measurable progress, and I am working with outside groups and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers to be sure the strategy is workable and has the support it needs," McCaul said. "If fully implemented, the ability exists to gain effective control of our borders within three years. The strategy must meet three key criteria. It must ascertain situational awareness of our borders. It must create metrics to measure progress based on outcomes. It must integrate Department of Homeland Security components that presently overlap or contradict."

The trip to the border McCain and McCaul undertook with Carper occurred a day before Napolitano arrived in Nogales, Ariz., to tour border security operations with Carper and David Aguilar, retiring deputy chief of US Customs and Border Protection.

In a joint statement released Tuesday, Napolitano and Carper contended the border was safer than ever.

"Over the past four years, the Obama Administration, working together with Congress, has dedicated historic levels of personnel, technology and resources to the Southwest border, and undertaken an unprecedented effort to transform our nation's immigration enforcement systems into one that focuses on public safety, border security and the integrity of the immigration system," they said.

The secretary and the senator further argued that comprehensive immigration reform would improve border security.

"Comprehensive immigration reform will help us continue to build on this progress and strengthen border security by focusing resources on preventing the entry of criminals, human smugglers and traffickers and national security threats," they said.