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Administrator Doan Brings Positive Message on Land Ports to San Ysidro

Remarks by
 Lurita Alexis Doan
Administrator
U.S. General Services Administration
San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce – 86th Annual Dinner
San Ysidro, California
February 1, 2008

Thank you very much, Artie.

Congressman Filner …

Mayor Sanders …

Mayor Ramos …

Chamber President Currie …

To all state and local officials representing the great state of California and our close southern neighbor Mexico…and to the many small business owners whose resourcefulness, resolve and entrepreneurial spirit create jobs and make America strong and prosperous …

To some of the most active associations, such as the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, the Border Trade Alliance, Casa Familiar, the Smart Border Coalition, Sandag and the Border Transportation Council …

Good evening. I am proud and so very pleased to be here.

I have visited San Ysidro, San Diego, and the border many times. I have met with Congressman Filner and other officials to discuss and try to resolve concerns about the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry.

I believe that an efficient facility linking our two nations is a critical catalyst for economic growth.  But I also understand the flip side -- that an overwhelmed crossing point can choke and strangle businesses and economies on both sides of the border.

To paraphrase President Bush from Tuesday’s State of the Union Address, the issue is complicated, but it can be resolved. And it must be resolved in a way that upholds our laws and ideals …

The president has asked us to achieve a higher standard at our nation’s borders, so these challenges must also be resolved in a way that expedites trade and tourism without compromising security.

Now, the promo for tonight’s event says Ms. Doan “holds the reigns on what the busiest land border on earth will look like for the next 30 years.”

And you know what? It’s true!

GSA is responsible for building and maintaining the U.S. Land Ports of Entry (POE). These ports not only control the flow of legitimate trade and travel along our southern and northern borders, they also provide foreign visitors their first glimpse of our nation.   What must these visitors think when the field of dreams turns out to be a jammed parking lot that takes six hours to navigate?

I believe there’s a better way.  GSA now intends to ignite a building boom at our nation’s ports of entry. It’s time we get busy and start building more roads, bridges, inspection booths and other infrastructure.

That’s not to downplay the need for high-tech solutions and the great work already done by the Department of Homeland Security. However, what President Bush called for over five years ago was a blueprint to improve security and facilitate the free flow of legitimate trade and travelers. In short, we need to build what we can, where we can, as fast as we can.   Something more personal also needs to be addressed.

When the terrorists attacked on 9/11, they targeted the United States’ World Trade Center, among our most prominent symbols of trade and prosperity. Osama Bin Laden was very clear about his goal to provoke and bait us into making misguided decisions that would result in self-inflicted damage to our economy and free trade.

Long lines of frustrated travelers at our land ports give Bin Laden a victory he does not deserve.  We can do better.  We can strike a blow against Al-Qaeda by making sure our trade and travelers move safely and freely across the border at San Ysidro and at all ports of entry without long delays.

I am happy to report that GSA is now aggressively taking the lead in building more capacity, more lanes, inspection booths, roads and new POEs across the nation.

We will face some challenges along the way too, but one thing we will not do is to repeat the same old mistakes that have created this situation.

GSA is not interested in commissioning another study to tell us the obvious, that legitimate travelers and cargo are being hindered at our nation’s borders.

GSA is not going to mask inactivity by hiding behind consensus building bureaucracy spouting endless bureau babble.   Building infrastructure is our task.  This is GSA’s responsibility, one that we have an obligation to fulfill spectacularly.  And, the President and Congress are holding me responsible to deliver.  (Do I have that right Congressman Filner?)

So, let me tell you what GSA has done already and what you can expect:

  • GSA has completely revamped how we build and manage our POEs.  We have eliminated lots of silly bureaucratic steps, reviews and streamlined reporting.  As a result, we have reduced the time it takes to build and design a land port;
  • We have fundamentally changed the role and responsibilities of state and local stakeholders.  In the past, nearly all decisions on how to focus investments at POEs were made in Washington.  That doesn’t work.  Local officials know which construction efforts will give the biggest possible return.  Put another way, if you want to meet the people most capable for coming up with the best ideas for constructing more capacity at the POEs in California, I can tell you that they are probably all in this room.  They are probably not in Washington.  (Do I have that right Mayor Sanders?  Mayor Ramos?).

We’re also encouraging greater participation from the private sector, as infrastructure enhancements are a perfect opportunity for public-private partnerships.  The crossing proposed at Otay Mesa East is a perfect example.

But how are we going to fund all this, you ask?  Well, let’s all honestly admit that funding is a challenge and the nation has serious financial constraints.

We can either whine about what we don’t have, or we can put to better use the resources that we do have.  Actually, we have more resources than you might understand.  As administrator of GSA I have the power to move funding to construct, build and maintain public buildings.

I have already reported to the president and the Congress that POES are one of my highest priorities and that I will fund them accordingly.  And the president and Congress have also made this a top priority.

I think we have enough money here in San Ysidro: our challenge is to use these resources wisely.  Of course, federal funding is an important resource. But I am eager to also explore other innovative financing that would help us build more capacity without always depending upon federal grants.  Success will require toil, hopefully not too many tears, and sweat.

We all know that San Ysidro was named for the patron saint of farmers. As the story goes, Isidro had been a virtuous farmer who fell asleep and had his fields plowed for him by angels.

I wish we could swoop in like government angels and plow the checkpoints free of traffic while you sleep. I also wish we didn’t live in a time when our nation’s enemies were inclined to or capable of desperate acts of terrorism.

But it’s just not so. America’s borders are complex real estate challenges. There are many stakeholders. And, everyone knows there is no single, silver bullet solution that can provide security as well facilitate the free flow of trade across all 6,900 miles of our borders because every crossing point, both on the northern border and on the southern border, is different. Anyone who has studied the situation -- as I have as administrator of GSA, and when in the private sector, knows this is no small challenge.

And, we’re going to be working more with local association leaders, such as Jason Miller and Tom Currie at the San Ysidro chamber to provide that local input and perspective. I look to each and every one of you in this room.  I am going to depend and expect your help, and it is time for action.

So, I not only want your ideas, I am counting upon them:

  • I have a Regional Administrator, Peter Stamison, who has specifically been tasked to work with you to come up with ideas and possible solutions.  His Senior Advisor, Darlene Ayres-Johnson, is here tonight.  Darlene can you please stand;
  • I have appointed a regional representative to work with local stakeholders — I think many of you know him well. Ramon Riesgo is here tonight.  Ramon, please stand;
  • I have appointed our congressional and intergovernmental liaison to work with everyone here and represent these interests to the White House Border Facilitation Working Group.  Susan Peppler, former Mayor of Redlands, can you please stand?

Now let me tell you one other thing.  When you do come up with innovative ideas, you should know that my two favorite words are "yes” and “now.”  Before I leave, let me also talk briefly about the role of small business and entrepreneurs because San Diego is a hot bed of entrepreneurial energy and creativity.

Not all, but certainly most, of the most innovative and creative ideas come from small businesses.  Now let me add one other factoid.  The federal government buys over $400 billion in goods and services each year.

My own budget at GSA is $56 billion, and I am responsible not only for the government real estate holdings — a portfolio of about $550 billion in assets, but also responsible for most of the government’s telecom, around $60 billion, transportation via fleets of vehicles, office supplies, furniture and much more.

I want to buy more innovative products, and I want GSA to buy more from small businesses.  I know that the federal government has not always been the easiest customer to deal with, and it has been particularly difficult on small businesses.

When I took office, it took 156 days for a company to get its products listed on the GSA Schedule, where they could be made available to the entire federal government.  That was just awful and far too long.

And so I ordered a complete overall, eliminating needless bureaucracy that was stifling small business.  As a result, I am happy to report that it now takes 30 days or less on average to get a GSA Schedule.  So it is time for you to step up too, to get your products and services listed on the GSA Schedule.  This is truly a small business’ first and best chance to have a prime contract with the federal government.  I have a great team working on this (could all of the folks here from GSA stand?).  We are here to help.  Make sure you get their business cards before you leave here this evening.  If you have problems go ahead and send me an email too.   Here is my email address:

lurita.doan@gsa.gov

Thank you…