Transcript: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s testimony on impacts of sequestration before the Senate Appropriations Committee

Transcript of testimony by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on the impacts of sequestration on trade, travel, border security, and immigration enforcement. The Senate Appropriations Committee hearing was held on Feb. 14, 2013:

…I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the impacts of sequestration on the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS has a broad mission that touches almost every aspect of our economy.

We secure our aviation sectors, screening 2 million domestic air travelers each day.

We protect our borders and ports of entry while facilitating trade and travel. Last year, our CBP officers processed more than 350 million people and facilitated nearly $2.3 trillion in trade.

We enforce the immigration laws. We partner with the private sector to protect critical infrastructure, and we work with states and communities to prepare for and respond to disasters of all kinds, like Hurricane Sandy, while supporting recovery and rebuilding.

Put simply, the automatic budget reduction mandated by sequestration would be destructive to our nation’s security and to our economy.

It would negatively affect the mission readiness and capabilities of the men and women on the front lines.

It would undermine the significant progress DHS has made over the past 10 years to build the nation’s preparedness and resiliency.

Perhaps most critically, it would have serious immediate consequences to the flow of trade and travel at our nation’s ports of entry, including many ports represented by members of this committee.

At the major international airports, average wait times to clear customs will increase by 50%, and at our busiest airports like Newark, JFK, LAX, and Chicago O’Hare, peak wait times – which can already reach over 2 hours – could grow to 4 hours or more. Such delays not only would cost thousands of missed passenger connections, they would have severe economic consequences both at the local and national levels.

Furloughs of transportation security officers will increase domestic passenger wait times at our busiest airports by more than 1 hour.

On the southwest border, our biggest land ports could face waits of 5 hours or more, functionally closing these ports during core hours.

At our sea ports, delays in container examinations would increase up to 5 days, resulting in increased costs to the trade community and reduced availability of consumer goods and raw materials.

Mid-size and smaller ports would experience constrained hours of operation, affecting local cross-border communities.

And at cruise terminals, processing times could increase up to 6 hours, causing passengers, again, to miss flights, delay trips, and increase costs.

Trade and travel are absolutely essential to our economy. Indeed, according to the U.S. Travel Association, one new American job is created for every 33 travelers arriving from overseas.

And according to the International Trade Administration, each extra minute of wait times at our busiest southern ports can result in $116 million in economic loss.

Sequestration would have serious consequences for our other missions.

CBP – Customs and Border Protection – would have to furlough all of its employees, reduced overtime, and eliminate hiring to backfill positions, decreasing the number of work hours equivalent to more than 5,000 border patrol agents.

The Coast Guard would have to reduce its presence in the Arctic by nearly one-third and surface operations by more than 25%, affecting management of our nation’s waterways as well as fisheries enforcement and drug interdiction, migrant interdiction, port security, and other law enforcement operations.

Under sequestration, ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] will be forced to reduce detention and removal. We would not be able to maintain the 34,000 detention beds mandated by Congress.

Sequestration would reduce our investigative activities into things like human smuggling, counter-proliferation, and commercial trade fraud.

Sequestration reductions would require us to scale back the development of critical capabilities for the defense of federal cyber-security networks and the nation’s core critical infrastructure would also remain vulnerable.

Sequestration would have impacts on our nation’s disaster preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. It would reduce the DRF – the Disaster Relief Fund – by over $1 billion, affecting survivors still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, the tornadoes in Tuscaloosa and Joplin, and other major disasters across the nation.

And homeland security grant funding would be reduced to its lowest level in 7 years, leading to layoffs of state and local emergency personnel across the country.

Threats from terrorism and the need to respond to and to recover from natural disasters will not diminish because of budget cuts. Even in this current fiscal climate, we do not have the luxury of making significant reductions to our capabilities without placing the nation at risk.

DHS will continue to preserve our frontline priorities as best we can but no amount of planning can mitigate the negative effects of sequestration on the security of the country.

As we approach the first of March, I urge the Congress to act to prevent sequestration and ensure the safety, security, and resiliency of the nation.


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