Sen. Hutchinson Directs GAO to Study U.S.-Mexico Border Crossing Wait Times

Apr. 17th, 2012
Kay Hutchinson

WASHINGTON –Today, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) sent a letter to U.S. Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro directing the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study on how to reduce wait times at U.S.-Mexico border crossings and the negative impact those wait times have on cross-border commerce. Sen. Hutchison continues to work closely with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Texas border communities to identify ways to make border crossings more efficient and effective; this study will be a useful tool in those efforts. Below is the text of Sen. Hutchison’s letter: The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro Comptroller General of the United States 441 G Street, NW Washington, DC 20548 Dear Mr. Dodaro: The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has the dual missions of securing U.S. borders to prevent the illegal entry of persons and contraband while at the same time facilitating legitimate trade and travel. CBP must effectively balance these missions to ensure the security of borders as well as the flow of legitimate commerce. The U.S. border with Mexico spans nearly 2,000 miles and DHS reports that the southwest border continues to be vulnerable to cross-border illegal activity, including the smuggling of humans and illegal narcotics. The majority of cross-border activity, however, remains legitimate and is vital to the livelihoods of constituents, businesses, and local communities along the southwest border. In balancing its border security and trade facilitation missions, CBP implements policies, procedures, and systems at U.S. ports of entry to inspect and screen incoming cargo, as well as passenger vehicles and pedestrians. CBP needs to implement these policies, procedures, and systems efficiently and effectively to help minimize adverse impacts on cross-border commerce. Various groups have reported that lengthy wait times at southwest border ports of entry can negatively affect cross-border trade and travel. In July 2010, GAO reported on wait times at northern border ports of entry, noting that data on wait times at those ports of entry were not always reliable and that staffing and infrastructure constraints affected wait times. We are concerned about wait times at southwest border ports of entry and CBP efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of cargo screening and inspections at those locations. Decreasing border crossing times is an urgent economic priority which impacts not only the border region but the entire nation. Therefore, I request that GAO conduct an evaluation to address the following questions: 1. How does CBP calculate wait times at southwest border ports of entry for cargo screening and inspections, including processing times for primary and secondary inspection, and how accurate are these data? 2. What factors has CBP determined to be the main obstacles to improving trade efficiency? a. To what extent has a lack of available staffing contributed to border delays? b. To what extent have infrastructure challenges contributed to border delays? c. To what extent has outdated technology contributed to border delays? 3. To what extent does CBP work with U.S. border trade groups to help find solutions to border wait time issues? a. If such collaboration exists, how could it be improved or increased? 4. To what extent has CBP taken actions to reduce wait times and improve the efficiency of cargo screening and inspections at southwest border ports of entry, and what challenges, if any, remain? 5. What changes will need to be made to CBP’s available resource pool to provide adequate staffing and infrastructure on our southwest border? 6. To what extent has DHS, the Department of Commerce, and/or other agencies studied or estimated the effects of wait times on cross-border commerce, and what have been the reported results? Thank you for your assistance in this matter. Sincerely, Kay Bailey Hutchison United States Senator

Kay  Hutchinson
U.S. Senator
News Release
Apr. 17th, 2012