Doan Details GSA Plan to Bolster U.S. Land Ports at Homeland Security Committee Hearing in El PAso
Oral Statement by
Lurita Alexis Doan, Administrator
U.S. General Services Administration
House Homeland Security Committee
Ensuring Homeland Security while Facilitating Legitimate Travel
El Paso, TX
January 3, 2008
Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Minority Member Davis, Congressmen Reyes, Cuellar, Rodriguez and Carney. I am Lurita Doan, the Administrator of General Services at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). I am pleased to be back here in El Paso with the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the challenges facing our Nation's ports of entry: the challenges of ensuring homeland security while facilitating the free flow of legitimate trade and travel. Toward that end, I will be discussing GSA's responsibility in the planning, construction, renovation and maintenance of our Nation’s Land Ports of Entry (LPOE).
We have done a great deal to improve security, thanks to the efforts of my colleagues from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Great and fundamental improvements in security are now clearly evident to all. However, I do not believe we have fully implemented President Bush’s border strategy of improving security while at the same time facilitating the free flow of legitimate trade and travelers. In September of 2002, President Bush also charged us with the responsibility of facilitating the flow of legitimate trade and travel across our borders and on that score, there is much to be done. 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.
I know that DHS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are working hard on a number of complex technology programs that are all designed to simultaneously improve security and speed the flow of legitimate travelers. But, I am a bit of a contrarian within the administration and believe that we must also implement low level solutions. We need to do more than rely on new technical improvements at our POEs. We need to build more capacity. Specifically, we need more inspection booths to allow CBP to conduct more primary inspections. We need more lanes and roads to carry additional traffic. In short, we need to build---what we can, where we can, as fast as we can.
GSA has the responsibility for building and maintaining our POEs, and I freely confess that in the past, GSA has been too slow to accept the leadership role in this area. Our borders are complex real estate challenges. We have many stakeholders, all of whom know there is not one silver bullet solution that can provide for security and simultaneously provide for the free flow of trade across all 6,900 miles—especially not if you have ever been to the border, as I have, and have seen how different the challenges are: Houlton is not El Paso, Pembina is not Andrade, Blaine is not Lukeville, Detroit is not San Ysidro.
Let me now tell you what we have done to correct this, and why I am so very confident that GSA is about to ignite a building boom at our POEs along both the Southern border with Mexico as well as the northern border with Canada.
1. We have completely re-tooled GSA’s ability to design, build and maintain POEs. 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. The Port of Entry program is cited as a performance measure for GSA managers and employees alike, and it reports monthly directly to me on progress made.
4. GSA is now encouraging 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 know best 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. We are gong to push very hard.
5. 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, Laredo, TX, Nogales, AZ, Otay Mesa, California, Buffalo, NY, Detroit, Michigan and several ports of entry in Maine have developed plans that we are prepared to support.
6. GSA is going to encourage greater participation from the private sector. Infrastructure enhancements are a perfect opportunity for public-private partnerships.
GSA’s 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!"
And, Congressmen, I need you to know that this isn’t just about funding. The fact is that projects to build additional capacity at our POEs have always been hindered by a excessively long bureaucratic process and planning cycle that takes to long to navigate. GSA has already made lots of progress in restructuring the design process, making it possible to deliver new improvements at POEs like San Ysidro and others, years ahead of the original schedule.
Second, GSA is going to be far more aggressive and ornery about getting more out of the money that Congress has already approved.
Third, the private sector and other American entrepreneurs have recently advanced some very innovative solutions for building new capacity with private funds. Good ideas need to be encouraged, and I believe that we should encourage private investment. Mr. Chairman, I believe the great challenge is not the funding, but making sure it is all spent wisely.
As I close my testimony, I want you to understand my determination and commitment to fully implementing the president’s wise strategy of improving security at our borders while simultaneously expediting the free flow of legitimate trade and travelers. The administration has made great progress on the security side, and it is now time to step up and make similar progress to speed legitimate trade across the border.
Finally, Mr. Chairman a personal note from the men and women of GSA. Let me take just a moment to help you understand why we are so committed, so determined and so passionate about the need to reduce the long wait times of legitimate trade and travel. When Al-Qaida attacked us on 9/11, they purposely chose to target one of our most prominent symbols of trade and prosperity, the World Trade Centers. bin Laden was very clear about that and even said that his goal is to provoke and bait us into making silly decisions that would result in self inflicted damage to our economy and free trade.
Long lines of frustrated travelers at our POEs potentially give bin Laden a victory that he does not deserve. We can do better, and we can strike a blow against al-Qaida by making sure our trade and travelers move safely and freely across the border without long delays. That is exactly the border policy that the president has developed. It will take toil, tears and sweat to fully implement the president’s policy. And that, Mr. Chairman, is exactly what you can expect from the men and women of GSA.