The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided critical funding to improve security along our borders at our land ports of entry. Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security, is utilizing $420 million in Recovery Act funding to replace aging infrastructure and enhance safety at 43 ports of entry across the country- through an objective, thorough, and transparent process.
On August 26, the Associated Press ran a misleading story that portrayed this process as biased and secretive. This is absolutely incorrect. The AP was provided information which it chose not to include in its story that clearly demonstrates how our Recovery dollars are being put to work quickly and transparently.
The AP claimed that political considerations helped determine which ports received ARRA funding. In reality, CBP and the General Services Administration used a thorough, objective, and transparent process based on the merits of each project to select the ports of entry that will be modernized with ARRA funds.
This process was long in the making. The assessment to rank the conditions and needs of all 163 U.S. land ports of entry started in 2003. CBP incorporated over 60 factors across four categories, ranging from health and life safety concerns to workload growth and space and site deficiencies. For ARRA funds, which were tied to construction timelines, CBP also identified and analyzed a range of factors that could impact the feasibility of meeting these timelines. This list is public on Recovery.gov.
The AP also alleges that the Department chose to use ARRA funding for small, low-traffic northern border ports rather than for busier ports along the southwest border, such as the port in Laredo, Texas.
But what the AP story doesn’t reflect is how the funding process works and an understanding of how ownership of a port restricts the funding process. The Department received ARRA funding specifically for ports owned by CBP, which includes 39 ports of entry along the northern border and four along the southwest border. None of these CBP owned ports are in Laredo. GSA owns or leases all the Laredo port facilities, part of the 38 southwest border land ports that GSA controls.
Most of the ports CBP owns are small, rural, low-traffic ports along the northern border. Most are four decades old and unequipped to meet the security needs of a modern, post-9/11 world.
Finally, the AP wrote that CBP had a secretive process for determining port funding and refused to provide justifications for its decisions. This is patently false. Prior to the AP’s story, CBP had published the prioritized list of ARRA port projects, along with detailed information describing the review process, on Recovery.gov.
The Department provided the AP with unprecedented access to a wide array of additional information about final project selections, including a nearly three-hour briefing and access to all supporting documents. CBP also provided written, on-the-record justifications for why specific ports were not eligible for ARRA funds due to feasibility and project readiness issues. We also made available to the AP numerous high-level policymakers for interviews on this topic.
In every instance, we provided the AP with information, which – if reported fully and accurately – would have addressed their questions. Americans should have confidence in the objectivity and openness with which ARRA funds have been dedicated to port projects and both CBP and the Department of Homeland Security are committed to upholding this responsibility. To find out more about how ARRA funds are being used in your community and across the country, visit Recovery.gov.
Acting Deputy Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection