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Doan Pledges to Ignite Building Boom at U.S. Land Ports of Entry

Remarks by
 Lurita Alexis Doan
Administrator
U.S. General Services Administration
2008 Homeland Security Outlook Conference
Washington, DC
December 10, 2007

 

Several months ago in a speech to the border community, I told them that they could expect a bolder and more energetic effort from GSA at our Ports of Entry (POEs).  This was the beginning of a fundamentally new approach to help speed the flow of legitimate trade and cargo across our nation’s borders.  Today, I am going to tell you what we have done during the last few months to make good on my promise, and then I am going to tell you what we will be doing next. 

Back in September 2002, the President announced a clear and unambiguous policy for our national borders; put bluntly, President Bush committed the nation to improving border security while at the same time ensuring that we do not restrict the free flow of goods and traffic from legitimate trade and travelers.  Huge investments have been made in any number of different technical and more sophisticated security systems.  Progress has been made and there can be absolutely no doubt that the nation is safer. 

But we need to also admit that we have NOT YET successfully implemented the second part of the President’s border strategy, and that is to expedite the free flow of legitimate trade and travel. 

Our POEs are the nation’s cash registers, where over $2 billion in trade crosses each day.  But years of inattention coupled with explosive growth in trade with Mexico and Canada have turned many of our POEs into large parking lots where legitimate trade and travel is bogged down in mile-long delays that sometimes extend for more than four hours.  Truckers in 18-wheelers idling away costly fuel and wasting time in line erode American competitiveness, drive up costs for all Americans, pollute the air and confound the spirit.   I read one report from Texas recently that things had gotten so bad that the City of Laredo has contemplated buying port-a-potties that would be deployed along the highway for desperate travelers caught in the long queues leading to the border. 

Long lines of frustrated travelers at our POEs, are simply not acceptable.  This is not what we want foreign visitors to have as the first glimpse of our great nation and it is not the policy that the President has outlined.  We can do better; we MUST do better, and so GSA is taking the lead in that effort.

Let me tell you now what we have been working on over the past few months and why I am so optimistic about the future:

1.  We have completely retooled GSA’s ability to design, build and maintain POEs.   In the past, it just took too long for the government to organize all the different agencies involved and get approvals for construction. A recent GAO report confirmed this and reported that the time required for GSA to design and deliver LPOE's for DHS is approximately seven years.  That is simply too long.  So we took a look at all the bureaucratic steps that were required with the goal of identifying bottlenecks and telescoping the time to complete the process and eliminating unnecessary steps.  The result?  I believe we can cut the amount of time it takes to design and build a POE by half and significantly speed the process, while at the same time cutting the costs to taxpayers.

2. GSA has abandoned the Washington-centric approach where all ideas for improved designs came only from inside the Beltway.  Instead, we have opened the doors, made the process more transparent and have asked state and local government to participate.  Good ideas do not all come from Washington.  More importantly, state and local leaders know far better than anyone in Washington exactly what efforts could be taken to help traffic move more quickly across the border.  

3. GSA has committed additional funding to push the best projects forward as quickly as possible.

4. This program is cited as a performance measure for managers and employees alike, has been identified as one of the GSA Administrator’s five major priorities and has my direct involvement and reports monthly to me on progress made.

I am very pleased and proud of the efforts GSA has made in just a short time. We now have a very determined and energetic team that is fully focused and dedicated to improving the infrastructure at our POEs along the border to alleviate the traffic snarls that are unfairly “taxing” legitimate trade and travelers.  So pleased, in fact, that we are going to build on this success and move a bit faster and even more boldly.  Let me give you some specifics:

1.  GSA hopes to ignite a building boom at our nations POEs.  We are going to build more inspection booths, more roads, bridges and other infrastructure that is needed. Our goal is simple: to expand capacity and build new facilities and improve existing infrastructure where needed most, as fast as possible. The days of performing yet another study to tell us that we have a congested border are over.   GSA is going to build and we are going to start immediately.  

2.  GSA is going to encourage every POE to immediately come up with ideas for practical solutions that would allow for speedier flow of legitimate travel across the border.  State and local officials will be asked to participate.  After all, they no best exactly what steps can be taken that would yield the biggest returns.  GSA can’t do all this on our own, but when local leaders and community stakeholders have developed solid practical ideas that can be immediately implemented, GSA is going to get behind these good efforts and push. 

3. There are a number of ambitious projects for building new bridges and new POEs that GSA is also prepared to support.   In particular, state and local leaders in El Paso, Texas, Otay Mesa, California, Buffalo, NY, Detroit, Michigan and several ports of entry in Maine have developed plans that we are prepared to support. 

4. GSA is going to encourage greater participation from the private sector.  Infrastructure enhancements are a perfect opportunity for public-private partnerships.  There is great energy and resources in the private sector and we intend to take full advantage of both.

5. You can be sure that we at GSA are going to keep our eyes on the prize.  Our goal is to ignite a building boom at our nation’s POEs to help alleviate the long lines of frustrated travelers. I have informed the President that GSA has made a commitment that this goal will be one of GSA‘s highest priorities over the next year.

So what can you expect over the next few months?  More.

We are going to build what we can, where we can as fast as we can.  I have visited almost all of the nations’ largest POEs during the past six months, met with local leaders and let them know that my two favorite words are, "YES and NOW!"