6th U.S. border security held by Senate committee

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) hosted the sixth hearing of the year focused on U.S. border security on Wednesday.

During the Securing the Border: Fencing, Infrastructure and Technology Force Multipliers hearing, committee members heard testimony on the current status of border security, and discussed what further steps must be made and what resources are required to help better secure our borders.

Witnesses testifying at the hearing included Rebecca Gambler, homeland security expert at the U.S. Government Accountability Office; Ronald Vitiello, deputy chief of the U.S. Border Patrol for U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Randolph Alles, assistant commissioner in the Office of Air and Marine for U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner in the Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition for U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Anh Duong, director of the Borders and Maritime Security Division for the Directorate of Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); and Michael Garcia, legislative attorney for the Congressional Research Service at the U.S. Library of Congress.

“DHS could do a better job of collecting data and developing measures and metrics to assess what contributions they are getting out of different investments – whether that’s fencing or whether or not that’s technology or other assets,” Gambler said during the hearing. 

Johnson also shared information from a report released on Wednesday by the DHS Office of Inspector General, regarding failures by DHS to collect and analyze data on the use of prosecutorial discretion.

“What we’ve recommended is that DHS take steps to better collect the data, better develop performance measures and metrics,” Gambler concluded.

Johnson also specifically discussed the current status of U.S. border security with Vitello, asking the deputy chief “What percent situational awareness do we have?”

“We’ve struggled with the idea of defining situational awareness,” Vitiello responded. “How do you measure something that has a different connotation for different environments?”

Johnson asked Vitello about DHS’ stance on the issue of legislation that would develop a metric to help determine situational awareness.

“I think we would all enjoy having a defined set of circumstances that says if you have these four criterion methods you do have situational awareness,” Vitiello answered.

Other issues discussed during the hearing included the pros and cons of additional or higher security border fencing, as well as the status and effects of illegal drug trafficking along the border.