By Douglas Doan
Let’s return to Sunday school and recall that long ago, all problems were thought to originate from one of the seven deadly sins. Using that theme, I have looked at particular problem areas within DHS. I have already discussed the sin of pride, greed, and sloth (don’t worry Lust is on the list, so let’s be a bit patient here). This week focuses on the 4th Deadly Sin: Wrath.
Wrath is defined as an inordinate, uncontrolled, irrational feeling of hatred and anger. When anger and emotion dictate policy outcomes, you can be dead sure that the result is bad policy. And, bad policy is exactly what DHS has produced, as the result of wrath, the fourth deadly sin.
To understand the harmful effects of wrath, let’s examine the current crisis along the southwest border. Our strategy to secure the border has recently been complicated by a vicious and deadly drug war along the Mexican border as cartels fight for supremacy.
Much to his credit, President Calderon has made confrontation with the cartels his most important presidential priority and has dispatched the Mexican Army to assert governmental control over the region. Calderon’s move also illuminated some painful facts: much of the money and most of the guns used to fuel the drug war along the border originate from the U.S. and are smuggled south across the border into Mexico
As a direct response, President Obama and the Secretary Napolitano have said that they intend to beef up inspections of cars and trucks travelling south across the border to disrupt southbound shipments of guns and money. Unfortunately, that solution requires resources of land, personnel, time and money that do not now exist, making the strategy difficult to implement.
For better or for worse, nearly all of our inspection resources and personnel are fully committed to the inspection of northbound cargo and passengers attempting to cross the border from Mexico. Currently, less than 1% of the available CBP assets are dedicated to inspect southbound traffic. Worse yet, Ports of Entry (POEs) have been built solely to accommodate northbound traffic with little space or infrastructure allocated for southbound traffic.
Secretary Napolitano is reported to be working on a comprehensive approach to stiffen CBP’s ability to inspect southbound traffic. But, by now, she is almost certainly frustrated by the limited options being proposed.
The most obvious proposal by some of the know-nothings in Congress is to duplicate the same inspection and personnel resources now dedicated to northbound traffic to inspect southbound traffic. This may sound ideal, but would likely cost a $ trillion in new spending to hire new CBP officers, buy the inspection equipment required, appropriate the land and build new, outbound, inspection facilities for the US side of the border.
Implementing that strategy would take at least 10 years. So, Napolitano is left with a feeble option to share existing resources from northbound traffic inspection with southbound. But, cannibalizing resources is unsustainable. Ultimately, this decision will result in fewer inspections of southbound traffic.
Wrath is the reason that Napolitano has so few options.
A long term solution that makes sense requires US inspectors and border officers to begin working more closely with their counterparts in Mexico, to help them interdict cash, guns and other contraband crossing into Mexico. Helping Mexico professionalize and increase their ability to interdict contraband is made even more urgent because Mexico has the dedicated space and government personnel who are already assigned the mission.
More importantly, as a direct result of aid provided from the US Department of State, Mexico now has the same high tech inspection equipment that is currently in operation at US POEs. What is required is more training, examples of best practices, and lessons learned from our own border security officers who have had far greater success in interdicting contraband. In short, Mexico has most of the resources needed to handle the job themselves, but need just a little more training and guidance from US border officers to succeed.
But wrath, within CBP, has created an irrational hatred and a deep, ideological resistance to working with their Mexican counterparts. So, the critical training the Mexicans need to improve is denied. Instead, silly, and hugely, expensive plans are hatched to try to duplicate all of CBP’s north bound inspection resources along southbound lanes. Apparently, CBP thinks only the US can do this job, and the Mexican border officers now armed with great equipment, beefed up staffing, and large amounts of real estate count for nothing. CBP senior officers have not, and will not, credit their Mexican counterparts with the progress already made, and do not seem to believe they are worthy of any trust or any cooperation. Wrath.
Attempts have been made to break through the bias and narrow-mindedness, caused by CBP’s wrath, against working with Mexico. But, none had much success. Secretary Chertoff tried. He dedicated staff and much attention toward a program called the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP) in 2005. The SPP was broad in scope and ambition.
SPP brought US, Canadian and Mexican border experts together in a multilateral set of negotiations to build more cooperative border security efforts and ease trade and travel frictions along the border. The delegations met for weeks and worked through weekends for several months to agree upon a set of 200 border initiatives covering everything from improved efficiencies at POEs, to more cooperation on transborder health issues, improved cargo security and bioprotection. Had the SPP been implemented, it would have helped to break down the deep suspicions and reluctance to more cooperative efforts by solving problems that no one nation could tackle alone.
The SPP was a noble effort, and Mr. Chertoff deserves praise for dedicating the time and energy required to reach a multilateral agreement. Unfortunately, soon after the agreement was signed and launched, with great expectations, it became rather obvious that CBP senior staffers were not as eager as Secretary Chertoff to participate in joint efforts with Mexico (working with Canada was viewed as a nuisance but acceptable).
And so, work on the SPP soon began to fade, with no real effort made to accomplish any of the goals the US had only recently agreed to pursue with Canada and Mexico. Mr. Chertoff did not have the leadership skills, or the courage, to push a reluctant bureaucracy forward into areas it was too scared, timid, and reluctant to venture. Not surprisingly, the SPP and 200+ specific goals for improved border operations died and have now been forgotten.
Four years later, the high costs of Wrath are clearly visible. Had Chertoff been more assertive and been less willing to abandon cooperative efforts with Mexico, DHS might well have been able to make the slow difficult steps forward needed to build a working relationship with Mexican counterparts assigned along the southern border. Then, as new challenges arose, such as responding to drug lords or halting the flow of cash and guns across the border, CBP officers would have had some experience working with Mexico.
Instead, few CBP officers assigned along the southern border have ever met, talked to, or even know the names of their Mexican counterparts stationed just a few hundred feet away on the other side of the border. There is little cross-border communication of any sort. CBP wrath would simply not allow it.
Any wonder why wrath was viewed as a deadly sin?
Douglas Doan is a former DHS official in Private Sector Office. He served on the official U.S. Delegation responsible for negotiations with Mexico and Canada on the Security and Prosperity Plan and is now a member of the Border Trade Alliance Board of Directors.