- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Homeland Security still won’t have a complete handle on the border by the end of President Obama’s tenure, department Secretary Jeh Johnson admitted to Congress on Wednesday, though he said they are quickly getting better.

Appearing before several committees to justify his 2016 budget request, Mr. Johnson said his department does not yet have situational control over the southwestern border, nor does it even have full “situational awareness” yet.

“I don’t know that we’ll be able to achieve that before the end of this administration,” the secretary told Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, who was quizzing him on it at a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing.

Mr. Johnson said the border is getting more secure, and pointed to statistics showing apprehensions of illegal immigrants in general, and of the unaccompanied minors who flooded the border in recent years, are both down significantly this year. Homeland Security officials argue that fewer people caught means fewer people are crossing.

But Mr. Johnson said he is not declaring “mission accomplished,” saying there is more to do, particularly in terms of adding technology to gain more of a sense of what’s going on at the border, anticipating problems and being able to respond to them.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota Democrat, said the border buildup has had the effect of pushing activity into more rural areas such as her state, and she wondered what the effects would be if the department did achieve 100 percent situational awareness.

Ms. Heitkamp questioned how much it would cost to achieve that goal.

“I would like to see a budget and a strategy for 100 percent situational awareness,” she told Mr. Johnson.

The level of border security has been a contentious issue for years.

Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, former Secretary Janet Napolitano, repeatedly declared the border secure enough, pointing to a drop in apprehensions as evidence that the flow of migrants was down, and to low crime statistics from border towns as evidence that drug violence in Mexico wasn’t bleeding over into the U.S.

When Mr. Johnson took over, however, he said the border needed more work.

He shifted resources to the border in response to last year’s surge of illegal immigrant children, and said that’s helped spur the drop in apprehensions that’s been recorded through the first six months of fiscal year 2015.

One major sticking point has been how to measure border security.

The Border Patrol used to use a measure called “operational control,” which measured how many miles of the border agents believed they could reasonably detect and deter or apprehend smugglers or illegal crossers. But with less than half of the border under operational control in 2010, Ms. Napolitano scrapped that yardstick, promising a replacement.

Five years later, no replacement has been released.

Mr. Johnson last week told reporters he believes apprehensions are a “sure indicator” of total border crossings, but said he would be open to other yardsticks of border security.

“I’m interested in greater transparency and I’ve asked my folks to assess, and we’re doing that right now, ways in which we can measure, with greater assurance, total attempts — including turnbacks, getaways, as the Border Patrol likes to refer to them,” Mr. Johnson said.

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