U.S. agents asked to identify security gaps at the border do not view the construction of a wall as a priority, according to a report published Thursday by the Democratic staff of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Citing internal survey data collected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which queries border agents annually as to what they view as the agency’s priorities, the report found far more requests for additional investments in technology, training and personnel.
But of the 902 “capability gaps” border agents identified in last year’s survey, only 34 included requests for additional fencing. Just three — fewer than 1 percent — referenced a “wall,” according to the Democratic staffers’ report.
President Trump is seeking $18 billion in border-wall funding over a decade, and in public statements, Department of Homeland Security officials have repeatedly said “frontline operators” will determine where the barriers will be built.
More often, border agents cited a need for better sensors, cameras and other technology, along with low-tech tools such as horse patrols, all-terrain vehicles and “better vegetation management,” as keys to improved security.
“With finite resources, federal funding for border security must be allocated in the most effective and efficient manner possible,” the report states. “At a minimum, funding decisions should reflect the operational requirements of frontline agents and Border Patrol section chiefs — and should not be based on a desire to fulfill campaign promises made by the President.”
DHS officials assailed the Democratic staffers’ report Thursday as a “false narrative.”
“As I’m sure committee minority staff are aware, the method discussed in the report is not for determining solutions to problems but instead is focused on identifying gaps in border security,” DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman said in a statement. “They have unfortunately conflated two distinctly different items.”
“Despite their fundamental misunderstanding of the materials they read — and numerous briefings on the same topic — we need to take immediate action to secure our border by building a border wall system, that includes physical barriers, technology, and personnel,” Waldman said.
A copy of the survey questionnaire reviewed by The Washington Post, however, includes fields specifically asking border agents to propose solutions for the security shortcomings they identify.
The latest version of the $1.3 trillion spending bill for the remainder of this fiscal year would provide $1.6 billion for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, but it would require the use of “operationally effective designs” that have already been deployed. That all but disqualifies the 30-foot-tall border-wall prototypes developed at Trump’s behest for new barriers that would be imposing and aesthetically pleasing.
Benjamine “Carry” Huffman, the head of strategic planning for U.S. Border Patrol, also took aim at the Senate staff report, calling a border wall “essential to gaining operational control.”
“The fact is, when it comes to border security, the border wall system works,” Huffman said in a statement. “Suggestions that the Border Patrol believes otherwise are false.”
The Government Accountability Office, the government’s top oversight agency, has urged DHS officials to develop tools to measure the effectiveness of walls, fencing and other barriers to avoid wasteful spending. Department officials say such metrics are in development and will be available by January.