What a week for the U.S. (and Nevada) immigrant population, first the Attorney General of the State of Nevada decides to squander state resources joining the nasty little lawsuit from the Texas Tea Partiers, and now the House of Representatives is scheduled to take up H.R. 399 the Secure Our Borders First Act of 2015.
“The bill would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to gain operational control of the U.S.-Mexico border within five years and would require the creation of additional fencing and roads. The bill is controversial with Democrats, but it has also generated opposition from immigration hawks in the Republican Conference for not being tough enough.” [GPW]
Isn’t it interesting – the issue always seems to be about immigrants from Mexico and Central America? This in the face of the fact that net-migration numbers show zero or less [Pew] from Mexico? And for a net-migration of zero or less we’re building expensive and ecologically questionable fencing? H.R. 399 is the same rather exhausted old Fence Bill otherwise known in some circles as the Boondoggle on the Border, “While the H.R. 399 list of fencing and technology is not identical to the last one, it is still looks just like another recycled version of a Department of Homeland Security wish list of hardware that was included in its “Report on the Assessment of the Secure Border Initiative-Network (SBInet) Program” five years ago.” [USNWR] Some contractors will be very pleased to hear of this bill’s passage? Taxpayers for Common Sense has an interesting graphic (pdf) of some of the hardware contractors would very much like to unload on us as “elements of border security.” … And the price tags attached thereto.
Needless to say, as a rehash of previous Fence Bills this one sailed through the committee process in the House after its introduction on January 16th to committee passage (18-12) on January 27th. Aside from the Boondoggle aspect of the bill, there’s another big problem.
What is meant by situational awareness and operational control ?
The bill says: ”The Secretary of Homeland Security shall gain and maintain situational awareness, and operational control of high traffic areas, by the date that is not later than two years after the date of the enactment of this Act, and operational control and situational awareness along the southern land border of the United States by the date that is not later than five years after such date of enactment.”
So how do we define those two crucial terms and who crafts the definitions?
The bills says: “In general.–Not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees, the BSVC, and the Comptroller General of the United States a comprehensive operational plan for each of the components of the Department of Homeland Security responsible for border or maritime security to gain and maintain situational awareness, operational control of high traffic areas, and operational control along the southern land border of the United States by the dates, respectively, referred to in subsection (a).” This doesn’t get us much further along in terms of what situational awareness and operational control mean in border security terms. Let’s assume that the term of art “Metrics” is a form of definition statement:
“Metrics consultation.–In developing the metrics required under paragraph (1), the Chief of the Border Patrol shall consult with staff members of the Office of Policy at the Department of Homeland Security and staff members of the Office of the Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Homeland Security. Such staff members may not be political appointees. 3) Metrics not reviewable.–The metrics required under paragraph (1) may not be reviewed or otherwise amended by the President, any staff employed by the Executive Office of the President, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or the Deputy Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection before the submission of such metrics to the appropriate congressional committees, the BSVC, and Comptroller General of the United States, as required under subsection (m). The prohibition described in this paragraph does not apply to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.” (emphasis added)
Let’s take a closer look at part one – wherein the Chief of the Border Patrol consults with staff of the DHS CFO and the policy office BUT not with any political appointees? A quick look at the organizational chart (pdf) of the Customs and Border Patrol agency shows that the Chief of the Border Patrol is a second tier position beneath the office of the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner. The Commissioner’s office is a political appointment. Are we saying the Chief may not consult with his superior? The chief may not consult with the Deputy Commissioner? Nothing says Chaos quite like having a subordinate for whom a manager is responsible not be empowered to seek advice and counsel or be given managerial direction.
However, the power shift is apparent is the section (4) describing the composition and appointment of the Border Security Verification Commission. One head of a national laboratory within DHS appointed by the President in coordination with the Speaker and minority leader of the House, and the majority and minority leaders of the Senate. One head of a university based center within DHS, with the same appointment scheme. Three Presidential appointments from recommendations made by the ‘special congressional commission on border security. In short, the whole “verification” panel is essentially congressionally controlled; thus the Secretary of Homeland Security may be the titular head of the border security apparatus, but it will be Congress that determines the implementation of the policy.
It’s a bit difficult to see how the “verification” system is supposed to work when the Republicans in the House of Representatives can’t seem to get on the same page well enough to even bring this proposed dis-organizational system to the floor for a vote at the moment. And yet…
The bill specifically states that no one can review the metrics of border security until the “appropriate congressional committee” has taken its gander at them, and the highly politicized and rather clumsy Border Security Verification Commission has had its run at it.
A vote against this bill is a vote in favor of eliminating taxpayer funded boondoggles in which the Wish List of a Big Government Department becomes the delight of contracting corporations. It is also a vote against one of the most unfathomable, glommed up, messy exercises in mismanagement and bifurcated accountability imaginable.