Letter on Department of Homeland Security Funding
The Honorable Hal Rogers
Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Homeland Security
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Mr. Chairman:
On behalf of the United States Chamber of Commerce, the world's largest business federation representing over 3 million businesses of every size and in every industry sector, I am writing to support the Chairman's mark on funding for the Department of Homeland Security. However, we also wish to express our serious concerns with, and opposition to, two amendments that we understand may be offered relating, separately, to the US-VISIT program and cargo security.
We understand that one amendment, to be offered by Representative DeLauro (D-CT), will have the effect of negating the recent contract award made to Accenture LLP for the development of the US-VISIT program. That program was established under statutory mandate to fulfill the important function of tracking the entry and exit of foreign visitors to the United States, and its proper implementation will strengthen our national security, aid in enforcement of our immigration laws and facilitate legitimate border traffic. The Department and the Congress have set an ambitious schedule for the rollout of the US-VISIT program and legislative efforts to undo the Department's selection process will have the effect of significantly delaying the implementation of the program.
It is important to understand that the selection of the prime contractor was made by the Department only after a lengthy review process which considered various competing proposals. In announcing the selection, Undersecretary Hutchinson said the selected contractor was chosen based on its management and technical ability, past performance and cost. It would seem obvious that the Congress is not in a position to micromanage and second-guess these kinds of decisions, which are based on the evaluation of highly technical and extremely difficult performance demands. Moreover, it is the Department that has been charged by the Congress with the responsibility to protect our borders and to see that US-VISIT becomes a workable reality; the successes or failures of the program will ultimately rest on the decision makers within the Department. Their selection of the prime contractor should, therefore, not be interfered with.
To address certain apparent misconceptions, it is also important to recognize that the prime contractor is an Illinois company. The company pays U.S. taxes and was deemed a qualified bidder under federal procurement laws. Second, the terms of the contract dictate that all work will be done in the United States by United States companies. No jobs will be outsourced to foreign workers. Contrary to some reports in the press, this contract does not fall into the category of offshore outsourcing. An important matter relating to our country's national security is not the place for distorted and inflammatory political rhetoric.
We are also seriously concerned over an amendment that may be offered by Representative Obey (D-WI) concerning screening of air cargo on passenger aircraft. It is our understanding that the Obey amendment would call for a system within 180 days of enactment to screen or inspect to ensure the security of all cargo that is to be transported in passenger airlines. In implementing such a mandate, the Obey amendment would call for the imposition of an air cargo security fee to implement this proposed mandate. While ensuring increased security of all passengers and cargo is the goal of the Department and the private sector, now is not the time to force a costly mandate on the air cargo industry that would adversely affect the business community.
The Department's Transportation Security Administration has already submitted an Air Cargo Security Strategic Plan based on recommendations from the Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC). The ASAC was made up of representatives from the Department, the Border and Transportation Security Directorate, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, TSA, other government agencies and private sector stakeholders. The objective of the strategic plan is to ensure that 100 percent of cargo that is deemed to be of elevated risk is inspected, and ensuring that the entire air cargo supply chain is secure. The strategic plan lays out four strategic objectives:
- Enhance Shipper and Supply Chain Security;
- Identify Elevated Risk Cargo through Prescreening;
- Identify Technology for Performing Targeted Air Cargo Inspections; and,
- Secure All-Cargo Aircraft Through Appropriate Facility Security Measures.
We strongly support efforts to better target cargo determined to be risky and prevent it from entering the global supply chain. Clearly, the Department's strategic plan is a good step in this direction, while the Obey amendment is not.
For these reasons, we strongly request your opposition to these amendments.
R. Bruce Josten
Executive Vice President, Government Affairs
U.S. Chamber of Commerce