NBC: Sen. Tester asks Congress to fund installation of border fentanyl scanners that now sit idle

by Laura Strickler

After NBC News reported that fentanyl scanners sit unused due to missing funds, the Montana Democrat sent a letter to Congress blasting Republicans who blocked the money.

As millions of dollars in fentanyl scanning equipment intended for the southern border sits unused, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is blaming Republicans and asking congressional appropriators to approve the money needed to install the machines in this year’s homeland security funding bill.

Tester says Republicans who killed the bipartisan border security bill this year should now support funding to install the machines. “Many of these scanners are currently sitting in warehouses unused,” Tester said Friday in a letter to the House and Senate appropriations committees, “because Senator Mitch McConnell and politicians in Washington blocked bipartisan border security legislation that would have appropriated funds to install them.” 

Customs and Border Protection says the majority of the fentanyl it seizes at the border comes into the U.S. through personal vehicles at legal ports of entry.

But in an interview this week, acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller told NBC News that large scanners used to detect hidden packages in cars crossing the border that could contain fentanyl are sitting idle because the agency lacks the funding from Congress to install them.

Tester says funding for installation is essential: “These scanners allow Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents to scan vehicles and cargo in order to detect fentanyl and other dangerous contraband that criminals are trying to smuggle into our country.”

Congressional Republicans have raised their own concerns about fentanyl scanners at the border.

In October, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn., requested in a letter that the Government Accountability Office conduct a “top to bottom” review of how CBP has used the $1.9 billion it has received to enhance border screening since 2018. That review is underway by the GAO, according to a spokesperson for the watchdog.

In the letter, the Republican lawmakers complained that while CBP has received almost $2 billion to boost scanning, the percentage of personal vehicles scanned is only 2%.

Miller said he still needs $200 million or $300 million to put the equipment that CBP purchased into the ground.

He said that CBP is scanning less than 5% of personal vehicles and that by the end of 2025 he wants it to be able to scan 40% of personal vehicles.

Miller said it would not be practical to try to scan 100% of the vehicles crossing the border, because of the volume of traffic. With 1 million people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border every day, he said, scanning every vehicle would “shut down legitimate trade and travel.”