Tester demands funding better northern border security—not REAL ID

Senator asks Committee for better surveillance, more agents on border

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Jon Tester wants his colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee to make better security a higher priority along the nation's northern border with Canada—rather than waste money on the controversial REAL ID program—in next year's Department of Homeland Security budget.

Tester, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, made the request in a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee.

Tester highlighted the lack of air and ground detection radar along the border, noting that the government needs to have a system in place to track low-flying aircraft and people illegally crossing the border.  Tester asked the Appropriations Committee to increase the Homeland Security budget by $50 million more than what President Bush requested in order to boost the number of aircraft patrolling the northern border.

"We need more boots on the ground and more eyes in the air to make sure the northern border is secure as possible," Tester said.  "There's a lot of ground to cover up there, and we start by investing in the best technology and human resources possible."

Tester's letter also asks the Appropriations Committee to provide funding for an additional 1,500 Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents to guard the northern border.  Reports show that the 5,500-mile border is currently staffed with 1,500 fewer CBP agents than authorized by Congress.

Tester asked the Committee not to provide funding for President Bush's REAL ID program.

The President's budget proposal requests $50 million to help states comply with REAL ID—a drop in the bucket compared to the $4 billion it will actually cost states.  Tester is a staunch opponent of REAL ID because of its high cost, because it invades privacy, and because it amounts to a national ID system which makes sensitive personal information vulnerable to ID thieves.

"Every dollar we spend on wasteful Washington boondoggles like REAL ID is a dollar we don't spend protecting our ports and borders," Tester said.

Tester, along with Senator Max Baucus, has cosponsored the Identification Security Enhancement Act, a bipartisan bill that repeals the federal Real ID Act and gives states more flexibility to fight terrorism.

Tester's letter to the Appropriations Committee appears below.


March 27, 2008

The Honorable Robert C. Byrd


Subcommittee on Homeland Security

135 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Thad Cochran

Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Homeland Security

123 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Cochran:

As you prepare the Fiscal Year 2009 Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill, I request that you consider the following requests that are of importance to my state. I fully understand the difficult challenge of prioritizing many valuable funding requests. 

I certify that neither I nor my immediate family has a pecuniary interest in the Congressionally directed spending item(s) that I have requested, consistent with the requirements of paragraph 9 of Rule XLIV of the Standing Rules of the Senate.  Additionally, in order to comply with this rule, copies of this letter will be provided to your offices of the full committee.

1.) Northern Border Airwing Expansion.  There is a lack of air and ground detection radar along the northern border, which creates a significant potential vulnerability along the Northern Border.  This lack of detection capability must be met with aircraft and sensor systems capable of detecting aircraft and individuals illegally crossing the border.  I therefore request that the CBP's Air and Marine Interdiction, Operations, Maintenance and Procurement account be increased by $50 million above the president's request to increase the number of detection aircraft and UAVs available for deployment on the Northern Border.

2.) Northern Border Staffing.  In conference report documents written in the last two fiscal years, the Committee on Appropriations has expressed support for the Northern Border staffing levels authorized by the Trade Act of 2002, the USA PATRIOT Act and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.  Under your leadership, Congress has provided funds to meet the increased northern border staffing needs created by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.  However, according to CRS, as of the end of FY2007 CBP was nearly 1,500 officers short of achieving its legislatively authorized staffing total for the northern border.  Therefore, I request that language such as the following be added to the Committee's report:

The Committee notes that DHS continues to fall well short of staffing northern border Ports of Entry and Border Protection positions.  The Committee therefore directs that not less than 20 percent of CBP officers and Border Protection agents hired with funds appropriated by this Act be deployed to the Northern Border.  Additionally, the Committee directs the Department to provide to the Committees of jurisdiction not later than 90 days after enactment a timeline for deploying the officers and agents authorized by law.

3.) REAL ID Funding.  I request that no funds be provided for States to assist in compliance with Title II of the REAL ID Act.  The president has requested $50 million in FEMA State and Local grant funds to be made available to States for activities related to REAL ID compliance. 

More than half the states have enacted legislation either preventing states from implementing REAL ID or disapproving of REAL ID.  Many privacy advocates have raised legitimate questions about REAL ID's impact on civil liberties, the ability of States to secure sensitive personal information, and other issues.  These concerns were never heard prior to the enactment of Title II of REAL ID, nor have they received adequate attention in the Senate since the law took effect. 

Further, providing $50 million for a program that is expected to cost the States more than $4 billion does not relieve the federal government of its obligation to pay for this sweeping unfunded mandate – it merely limits the Subcommittee by requiring it to provide additional funds in future years.  Given these well-founded concerns, I believe that the Subcommittee's best option is to fund higher-priority security measures this year to give the Senate and the next Administration the opportunity to review and amend or repeal this misguided law.

Please feel free to contact me if you or your staff has any questions about my requests.


Jon Tester

United States Senator