Senator Tester's letter to Secretary Janet Napolitano

The Honorable Janet Napolitano
Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20393

Dear Secretary Napolitano:

During our conversation of August 31, I shared with you my need for an exact cost breakdown of each of the CBP-owned ports that will be reconstructed or significantly renovated using funds provided to the Department in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  You pledged to get this information to my office as soon as possible.

It is of great concern to me that even as some have begun to question the need for these port improvements, the Department has thus far effectively failed to demonstrate with sufficient detail how these funds will be spent.

I strongly disagree with those who have stated that these improvements ought not be made to northern border ports.  The Government Accountability Office has issued several reports since 9/11 detailing both the very real threats to homeland security that exist on our northern border and the ease with which GAO inspectors have been able to illegally cross the northern border without being detected.  However, the fact that the Department has not produced any detailed documentation as to the reasons for the costs associated with the reconstruction of these ports suggests that perhaps further reconsideration is needed.  We must bolster security along the northern border, and we must do so as responsibly and efficiently as possible.

When CBP’s Land Ports of Entry spending plan was first announced, I expected that there was sound methodology behind the initial cost estimates.  However, the Department has failed to fully explain these estimates.  During the 30-day re-evaluation period now in effect, I hope that the Department will take the time to consider how to better inform the American public of how their tax dollars will be spent.  It should be abundantly clear that business as usual is completely unacceptable.

I also hope that you will direct CBP to reconsider its decision not to make public the methodology used to determine the ports in need of reconstruction.  While I was encouraged to see that much of this work was planned for Montana and North Dakota, I had no role in determining where this work would be done and I have never been briefed on how these decisions were made.  There is no doubt that the five Montana ports are deficient, inadequate and need to be rebuilt.  However, they need to be rebuilt in a way that meets both legitimate national security needs and realistic regional commercial needs. It is my hope that Congress can have hearings on this matter before the year is out.

Prior to your confirmation, we discussed the need to improve northern border security in general.  Indeed, improving the security of both our borders is one of my top legislative priorities.   During that conversation, I shared with you the details of my trip across the northern border last summer with then-Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Paul Schneider and the poor quality of the ports we saw there.  That is why I strongly support the Department’s desire to improve these ports.  However, as a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee and the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, I am concerned that the Department’s handling of this situation jeopardizes the commitment to better northern border security.

I supported the Recovery Act because I believe that it will ultimately create jobs in this country by investing in infrastructure and other needs that have been neglected for far too long.  Indeed, the reconstruction of five ports in Montana will generate jobs in areas of Montana that sorely need them.

However, the Department must ensure that its work respects the two pillars upon which good government rests – transparency and accountability.  So let me be clear:  Montana needs these jobs.  Our nation needs the added security.  Both need good government now more than ever.  During your tenure as Governor of Arizona, your state led the country in many of these areas.  I hope that under your stewardship, the Department also gets better at both security and good governance.


Jon Tester
United States Senator