News Releases

Murray Presses Defense Department to Expedite Deployment at Border

Feb 13 2002

Gets commitment from Deputy Secretary to consider hastening the training and deployment of Guard personnel

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Troubled by the delays in the deployment of National Guard personnel to the Northern Border, Sen. Patty Murray today grilled Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on how the deployment could be expedited.

Part of the delay has been getting the federal agencies with jurisdiction – the Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service – to sign Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs) with the Department of Defense.

The MOAs address a number of issues including length of service, reimbursement rates, and lines of authority and command between the National Guard personnel and the federal agencies.

The Department of Defense has said that the MOAs could be signed next week, after which the training of the Guard personnel could begin.

Murray pressed Wolfowitz to authorize the training of Guard members in advance of the MOAs being signed, as a way to expedite the process, and succeeded in getting a commitment from the Defense Department to examine the matter.

"Will you authorize the immediate training of National Guard personnel for upcoming border missions," asked Murray. "We want to do everything we can to speed the deployment and it seems to me that if we begin the training immediately that will be one way to get this moving quickly. Can you authorize that?"

Wolfowitz responded, "I will look into the question of whether we can start the training in advance of MOAs. That would make a lot of sense if we could speed up the process."

Murray has been a longtime advocate of increasing staffing and resources at the Northern Border. Late last year, Murray succeeded in getting the funding to hire hundreds of additional INS inspectors and border patrol agents at the Northern Border.

A transcript of their discussion follows:

MURRAY: Mr. Secretary, I believe that our fight against terrorism and homeland defense are inextricably linked. To me one of the most obvious examples of this linkage is the question that's pending before the Department of Defense right now regarding the deployment of National Guard personnel to assist with security missions along our Northern and Southern borders.

As you probably know, late last year Attorney General Ashcroft announced that the federal government would send the National Guard to our borders to supplement the agents from the INS and Customs. In my home state this news was met with enormous relief because it has a serious impact on our borders -- with a lack of personnel -- it has had an impact on our communities with their economies and families and we were happy to hear that we're getting more personnel. But since that announcement, the federal government has made very little progress towards actually deploying these National Guard personnel.

I understand the legal and organizational challenges when we're determining how best to deploy National Guard assets, but I want you to know that every day spent negotiating the fine print of an M.O.U. is another day spent in gridlock and economic hardship for border communities across our country, but particularly in Whatcom County in my home state.

Now I know that the Department of Defense is very close to having in place M.O.U.s and with the Department of Justice, and I think there is some work to be done with the Department of Treasury, but my question is will you authorize the immediate training of National Guard personnel for upcoming border missions? We want to do everything we can to speed the deployment and it seems to me that if we begin the training immediately that will be one way to get this moving quickly. Can you authorize that?

WOLFOWITZ: Well, Senator Murray, I don't know whether we can authorize it absent the Memorandum of Agreement. But I agree with you that those should get done and get done quickly. And I spoke with people just yesterday about my frustrations that it is taking so long. I will look into the question of whether we can start the training in advance of M.O.A.s that would make a lot of sense if we could speed up the process.

MURRAY: Well, I would really appreciate and if you have the authority to wave them and you could move this along we would greatly appreciate it -- it is needed and if you don't if you could tell us what we can do to make that happen or if the sec of defense or director ridge or the president can do anything. We need to get this done and we need to get it done as quickly as possible and we don't want the training to be a barrier to getting those folks out there.

WOLFOWITZ: And I guess I would also appreciate any help you could give us on making sure those other departments start recruiting and training up their own people because this is meant a six month stop-gap until they have their own people. So, both pieces of training need to get going quickly.

MURRAY: Well, I would agree. What we all want is for the INS and Customs to have their own people in place, but in the meantime we have tremendous economic hardship because we don't have enough people to the job we're requiring them to do for homeland defense. And I know the M.O.U.s we're talking about take 179 days. Can you tell me what the rationale behind the 179 days is?

WOLFOWITZ: Principally that that's the amount of time that we call up National Guardsmen and reservists. And it seemed like a reasonable amount of time for the INS and others – I don't think that we should start thinking of the men and women who volunteer to serve their country in uniform as just being a readily available pool of manpower.

MURRAY: I would agree. But defending our borders is something we need to do.

WOLFOWITZ: And we're going to step up to our piece of it and it's very important that particularly that when we look at the type of budget demands on this department it's very important that other agencies don't leave us holding the bag indefinitely

MURRAY: I would agree with you, but I hope we can work with you if we have to extend it beyond 179 days. Our whole purpose here is to fully staff Customs and INS. That's an appropriations and a budget issue as well. But if we can't, I hope we can work with you to make sure that border is staffed and appropriately done so - if it goes beyond 179 days.

And let me ask you about reimbursement because I know that's one of the key issues that's holding things up and it's temporary, but it is a federal responsibility, and I hope we don't let disputes about reimbursements prematurely end this deployment. And I hope that the Department of Defense encourages the President to request supplemental funds for this mission particularly if it goes beyond the 179 days.

WOLFOWITZ: I'll check into that.

MURRAY: I would appreciate that. And again, Mr. Secretary, I can't emphasize enough the importance of this issue to my constituents and really to people all along the Northern Border. It is a very real federal issue and it's having an enormous impact on our border communities. It's not a debate among military lawyers in my state, it's about people losing their jobs and their livelihoods and our communities losing our tax bases and we've got a lot of people waiting to see if the federal government is going to follow their commitment.

WOLFOWITZ: Well I appreciate hearing that from you and it may help us to clear away a little of this bureaucracy.

MURRAY: Well I hope so and that we can get it done quickly. Thank you.

WOLFOWITZ: Thank you.