Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Here's One Result of The Iraq War--No Money for Border Agents

2,000 new border agents aren't part of budget, Ridge says

By Mimi Hall, USA TODAY

President Bush will not ask Congress for enough money to add 2,000 agents to patrol the nation's borders in his 2006 budget, even though he signed a bill last month authorizing the increase.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Monday that Bush's new budget, to be released in early February, will propose a "good incremental increase" in the number of agents. But he made it clear the number would not approach 2,000. The new agents were to be the first hires toward doubling the size of the force over five years.

As part of a sweeping intelligence bill passed in December, Congress called for nearly doubling the size of the Border Patrol by adding 10,000 agents over five years. The agency has about 11,000 agents; 90% work along the southern border with Mexico.


But in an interview with USA TODAY, Ridge scoffed at the notion of adding so many agents and said it would be an inefficient use of precious homeland security dollars.


"The notion that you're going to have 10,000 is sort of a fool's gold," Ridge said. "It's nice to say you're going to have 10,000 more Border Patrol agents in five years, but what other part of Homeland Security do you want to take the money from?"


He said it makes more sense to pay for a combination of more agents and better technology, such as ground sensors and cameras.


T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said the Bush administration is making a mistake. "Cameras don't catch people, people catch people," he said. "If you don't have the agents you're not going to catch the people your technology sees."


Ridge's comments came as he began his final week as the first secretary of the 2-year-old department, which was created in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.


Most of Ridge's top deputies also are leaving the 180,000-employee agency. Monday, border and transportation chief Asa Hutchinson became the latest to resign, and the White House nominated AECOM Technology executive Michael Jackson to serve as the new deputy secretary. (Related item: Hutchinson leaving Homeland Security post)


This month, Bush nominated Michael Chertoff, a federal appeals court judge, to replace Ridge.


In a 45-minute interview in his office, kept warm with the help of a space heater, Ridge also said that:


• Although it would be more difficult now for terrorists to attack the United States, "I am no less concerned that an attack will occur. ... I still accept the inevitability." He said it may take "a generation or two" to defeat the terrorist threat against the United States.


• The extraordinarily tight security for Bush's inauguration last week was necessary, even though there were no threats directed at the event. Costs climbed to at least $17 million for the security, and many people didn't get to see the swearing-in or parade because lines at checkpoints were so long.


• Private industries have made "some very significant investments" to tighten security, and there is no need for the government to pass regulations forcing them to do more. Critics, including Greenpeace and other environmental groups, say chemical companies in particular haven't done nearly enough to protect against an attack that could kill and injure tens of thousands of people. But Ridge said company leaders know that "if you don't do it in the foreseeable future, you'll be told to do it."


• The government should consider sharing more information with the public when it raises the terrorist threat level under the color-coded system he developed. The threat level "happily" hasn't been raised nationwide in more than a year, Ridge noted. He acknowledged that the public found the alerts confusing. "Maybe we should take a look at what we hold as classified," he said.







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