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Build the algorithm for border security

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In the battle over the border wall that has partially closed the government, both sides have painted themselves into the proverbial corner. President Trump says he wants money for a wall. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) says no way. Trump actually signaled a willingness to deal, adding words such as “barrier” and “slats” to his language, along with provisions for extra personnel, more humanitarian aid and a list of other things. By contrast, Pelosi hardened her stance. Not a foot of wall, or fencing or slats.

One strategy discussed for at least a year was a communication one: Don’t call it a wall; just call it a barrier. Call it “border security,” something once enthusiastically endorsed by multiple Democratic lawmakers. For political reasons, that hasn’t cut it since control of the House changed hands.  

{mosads}What can you call it to give both sides plausible victory? Call it “an algorithm.” An algorithm is just a mathematical model. In this case, it would be used by insurance companies to measure risk and pay out when needed. Here’s how it would work.

The president would ask for “border security” to include drones, judges, new centers, etc., and an assessment process to establish how these are working. If they are deemed effective — as defined by the risk assessment model, or algorithm — there’d be no construction of more physical barriers. If they are not, the $5 billion the president requested to build a wall would be dispersed for just such a purpose.

Who could write such a model and assessment? Why, the insurance industry, of course. Some company such as Lloyds of London, which just wrote a policy for the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to indemnify the school in the event that something might drastically curtail enrollment by Chinese students in its colleges of business and engineering. The analysis is quite quantitative. If the number of Chinese students declines by 18.5 percent over a 12-month period, the school is insured for up to $60 million. Cost: $440,000 per year.

Lloyds, or an American company, should be able to review data and write a policy. The government generates mountains of data — on migrants arriving, families assembling at the border, requests for asylum, the caseload of applicants, overtime worked by border patrol agents, the cost of deploying National Guard troops to the border, attempted crossings intercepted, cases of disease, and more. The number of topics for which the government generates data is awe-inspiring, at least if you construct mathematical models that seek to set triggers for certain events.

Promulgating a deal — not a compromise — through the industry’s computer modeling would allow Pelosi to maintain her stance that a structure at the border is unnecessary and immoral. It would allow Trump to express confidence that the measures urged by others may help but ultimately will be insufficient.

The issue will be the definition of “working” or achieving border security. It can’t be zero immigration because that’s unobtainable. Risk analysis is capable of setting parameters, presumably based on all that data. The company would be required to publish its parameters, and probably its data choices, and there would be discussion, debate and gnashing of teeth. Congress might even try to get involved to micromanage the decision. No matter; the government would be reopened and both sides could claim victory.

Trump would not disappoint his base of supporters, who presumably want a wall, and Pelosi would not be forced to take the ridiculous position of declaring opposition to an equation. Elected officials on both sides of the aisle could have something to grab onto and urge action.

Businesses and governments engage in risk analysis as part of decision-making and asset allocation all the time. They take out insurance in case things don’t turn out as planned. That’s exactly the situation we face now, so it’s time for a new call to action. Build the algorithm!  

Merrie Spaeth, a Dallas communications consultant, was President Reagan’s director of media relations. Follow her on Twitter @SpaethCom.

Tags Border wall Donald Trump Government shutdown Immigration Nancy Pelosi Risk assessment

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