By Douglas Doan
The good news is that the Secretary Napolitano is, finally, starting to focus on the growing problem regarding how over a $1 billion of Stimulus funding was quietly diverted from its intended purpose and is being squandered.
Stay tuned to this one: nasty congressional hearings could be just around the corner. Of course, the oddest part is that while DHS Secretary Napolitano tries to quiet the growing alarms, members of her own department at CBP are busy tossing gasoline onto the fire and seem to be working just as diligently to make the problem even worse.
Let’s do a quick review. A few days ago on this blog and elsewhere, growing alarms were sounded about the CBP decision to spend nearly all of the $1 billion in Stimulus funding at the smallest Ports of Entry, mostly along the northern border.
The problem, of course, is that our smallest ports of entry feature small numbers of daily crossers, while the larger POEs (San Ysidro, Buffalo, Detroit, and in Southern Texas) are often congested with legitimate trade and travelers as they attempt to cross the border.
These larger POEs feature more than $1 billion in cross border trade each day, so it came as a huge disappointment to border communities to learn that, instead of helping trade and travelers with infrastructure improvements where the needs are greatest, Acting CBP Commissioner Jayson Ahern elected to spend nearly all of the funding to upgrade living conditions for CBP officers serving at POEs that often see less than 20 people crossing the border each day.
To be sure, these small POEs are outdated and the buildings are old. No doubt the new car parks and other planned improvements are useful. But the larger point is that President Obama promised the nation that he would use all of the Stimulus funding to help jump start the economy and would specifically focus that funding on long delayed infrastructure projects that would do just that, which, clearly, is not happening. So now, Secretary Napolitano and the President need to do some explaining about how and why, the spending on POEs is going to low priority, low impact projects.
No doubt, Secretary Napolitano is trying to grip on the problem. I wish her well. Perhaps her first effort should be to get a grip on the excuses and the regrettable bureaucratic efforts to find someone to blame for the embarrassment. Here, I am speaking about a recent attempt by CBP to divert attention and responsibility that was featured in the DHS Leadership Journal. You can, and should, read the whole sorry thing.
The first whopper that will catch your attention is the assertion that Stimulus funding was provided to “improve security along our borders at our land border ports of entry.” But, when members of Congress talked about improving the infrastructure at our POEs, it was primarily to alleviate the long lines of stalled traffic, caught in lines of more than 6 hours, as they attempt to cross the border.
In fact, all of the Congressional leaders responsible for pushing POE infrastructure into the giant $787 billion Stimulus funding (Reyes, Filner, Cuellar were especially forceful) did so to help solve congestion problems by building more lanes, bridges, and roads to get stalled trucks and travelers moving more quickly. Hence, the anger and growing congressional alarm over the CBP decision to divert the funding to projects such as new pistol ranges in isolated locations that few will ever use.
In the Leadership memo, CBP does the typical bureaucratic dance, complete with wild gestures and finger pointing at other federal agencies that they claim are really to blame. Nothing new there, covering your ass and finding someone else to blame are part of every bureaucrat’s routine. But, it is still sad to watch.
Unfortunately, CBP misses the much broader and important point. Americans don’t care a whit about all the bureaucratic maneuverings and finger pointing. We want results. We expect agencies such as CBP to execute the orders of the Congress and the President, and if the intent of $ 1 billion in new federal spending was to build more capacity at POEs and get stalled traffic moving, that is exactly what CBP should be doing. There can be no excuse for diverting those funds to build pistol ranges.
I am particularly amused at the assertion that ownership issues with GSA complicated the ability of CBP to build the urgently needed new capacity at the larger POEs. Anyone with any experience at all in government programs understands that ownership issues are irrelevant.
All CBP has to do is ask GSA to build more capacity at the POEs with the greatest need, transfer the necessary funding required to get the job done, and the project can move forward.
Of course, the dirty, little secret that the CBP guys are not telling everyone is that they captured nearly all of the $1.3 billion in funding aimed at POEs. Moreover, Congress and the President expected that CBP would work with GSA and any other federal agencies like the Federal Highway Administration as well as the appropriate state and local governments to develop a single slate of high impact projects at the POEs.
For sure, that would have taken some leadership and it would have required Acting Commissioner Ahern to seek the guidance, support, and input from other federal and state agencies that are critical stakeholders at the large POEs. Instead, the Acting Commissioner viewed the POE funding as a private CBP honey pot, giving him the ability to distribute largess and fulfill even the smallest needs at the most insignificant locations.
Still, you have to admire the CBP sharp elbows thrown in order to capture all of the POE funding to improve the infrastructure at POEs and the simultaneous bureaucratic craftiness to assign the blame for project failure on others.
See you at the hearings!!