Bill would have private workers check customs and border patrol statistics

A subsidiary of the contracting giant Lockheed Martin would take charge of measuring and verifying illegal activities along the U.S.-Mexico border if a bill out of the House Homeland Security Committee were to become law.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) and approved Thursday by the Homeland Security panel, would require Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to develop a comprehensive 5-year strategy for gaining operational control of the country’s international borders.

A provision of the bill authorizes Sandia National Laboratories to monitor and double-check border statistics gathered by the Customs and Border Protection agency. The company is owned by the Department of Energy, which subcontracts the management to Lockheed Martin.

Miller, chairwoman of the subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, sponsored the legislation in the wake of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study that found only 44 percent of the U.S.’s Southwestern border was under “operational control.”

Napolitano has said that the term “operational control” does not reflect all of the necessary measures and components of what it takes to ensure comprehensive security along the border. 

Operational control, as defined by the Secure Fence Act of 2006, is “the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been revising the way statistics of apprehensions and smuggling volume are measured along the border, in an effort to more accurately calculate the rate of illegal activity there.

Miller said the appointment of an outside firm was necessary because the CBP does not currently have a national method of measuring their progress at ports of entry.

“That measure should take into account staffing requirements, K-9’s, infrastructure, cargo volume, and consideration of the threat environment,” said Miller at the markup.

Napolitano has been intensely focused on the Southwest border region, as part of President Obama’s attempt to push back on any possibility of Mexican drug-cartel violence spilling over into U.S. border towns. Obama requested — and Congress approved — $600 million in additional funding to bolster the ranks and equipment of federal and local law enforcement officials in the region.

And the president approved 1,200 National Guardsmen to be deployed last year by California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas to provide material support for DHS's Operation Phalanx. They are set to stay in the region until at least September, while more Border Patrol and CBP agents are being trained. 

The move to strengthen border security was also aimed at satisfying comprehensive immigration reform opponents who were calling for the border to be secured before any action could be taken to revamp the country’s immigration system.

But the GAO study has proven to be a thorn in the side of the administration, as it reported that the majority of the border was not under “operational control.”

The Sandia National Laboratories group would also be in charge of verifying and approving any new definition of what “operational control” means for the border region.

-- This story was updated at 3:00 p.m. on June 3.