Committee Chairman, Congressman Mike McCaul (R-TX), in his statement directed attention to increasing illegal immigration in recent months, concerns with catch and release policies, and congressional provision of billions of dollars for technology investment and barrier replacement along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Committee Ranking Member Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) concluded the opening statements by emphasizing the complexity of CBP’s mission at the border, and encouraged Commissioner McAleenan to use his many years of experience to inform and guide the agency. He stated that border security operations are more “nuanced than simply building a wall”. Congressman Thompson questioned recent administration actions in deploying the National Guard and authorizing the development of a wall when DHS illegal entry data does not support these actions. He also emphasized the importance of resolving CBP’s staffing problems, but specifically the shortage of officers manning U.S. ports of entry.
Commissioner McAleenan's Testimony
The Commissioner discussed the current progress made within CBP to enhance its operations, citing increased narcotics seizures and refinement of internal programs as examples. Despite current progress, the Commissioner emphasized the importance of continued investment in technology and staffing to address new threats which are more difficult to apprehend or interdict. He concluded by emphasizing that border security is national security, and a non-partisan issue.
Questions for the Record
Representative Lou Correa (D-CA), Rep. Demings, and Rep. Vela questioned Commissioner McAleenan on CBP’s hiring challenges and what is being done to address CBP’s attrition rate. Rep. Correa was concerned with CBP hiring issues resulting from false polygraph readings. Commissioner McAleenan discussed CBP’s pilot of a new polygraph protocol, which has resulted in an increased pass rate.
Commissioner McAleenan said the first way to decrease attrition rates is to expedite hiring of new agents, which will reduce workload burden on the collective agency. Additionally, CBP is working on defining career paths and creating more predictable mobility for Officers and Agents; in response to complaints about CBP Officers’ inability to relocate and consequently leaving the agency. Ranking Member Vela questioned CBP’s policy to hire agents for duty at ports of entry that are further away from their home locations, mentioning that this policy seems to hamper CBP’s hiring efforts. Commissioner McAleenan stated that the policy to hire agents for duty at ports of entry further away than their home locations is an anti-corruption measure, but that CBP is developing a policy to help agents relocate to ports that align with their familial or personal needs later within their careers.
CBP Investment Priorities and Spending
Regarding CBP’s procurement process, Commissioner McAleenan stated the process is two-fold: long-term planning for large-scale investments, such as an integrated fixed tower, and short-term procurements of emerging technology for testing and quick application.
In response to concerns from Rep. Rogers, McAleenan confirmed that the procurement of fiber optic cable remains a core component of the Border System that CBP intends to build, which will integrate multiple sensors and equipment. In response to Chairwoman McSally’s question on the procurement of adequate technology to interdict fentanyl, McAleenan responded that CBP has launched advance data pilots and purchased testing technology, which is helping identify and interdict fentanyl.
Representative Correa pressed Commissioner McAleenan on what investments he would prioritize when given a choice between border wall infrastructure, x-ray machines, K-9 units, and other investments. The Commissioner responded that all those investments are important and require a balanced approach to tackle various challenges, but that for drug interdiction, non-intrusive inspection (x-ray) is the most effective investment.
McSally and Vela were concerned with CBP investment in updating U.S. ports of entry. The Commissioner stated CBP conducts a feasibility study to determine what investment ports need for sustainable system operations. Vela also asked how much funding is needed for modernizing U.S. land ports of entry, and whether the Donation Assistance Program is adequate. McAleenan stated that CBP has a $4 billion deficit in funding at U.S. land ports of entry.