TCS Daily


Reinventing Borders

By Janice Weiner - January 1, 2005 12:00 AM

Editor's note: The following remarks were delivered at the Risk: Regulation and Reality Conference. The conference was co-hosted by Tech Central Station and was held on October 7, 2004 in Toronto, ON.

James Glassman: Please continue to eat, everyone, our speaker says she doesn't mind if you are eating while she's speaking. We are very honored, today, to have with us Janice Weiner, who is the Economic and Political Console with the United States Consulate General in Toronto. She came to Toronto to head the Political and Economic section in August of 2002. She is a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service. She has served at U.S. embassies mainly in eastern and southern Europe. Just before coming to Toronto she was the Deputy Political Counselor in Warsaw. Her previous foreign service tours include an Officer in Charge of German Affairs in the Office of Austrian, German and Swiss Affairs at the State Department. She has also been awarded several important foreign service awards, including a superior honor award as a member of the team that chronicled the end of the GDR and the William R. Rifkin Award for Intellectual Courage demonstrated during her tenure in Turkey. I know, I was a member of a commission last year that studied public diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim world, and I know that Turkey is not an easy posting, nor is it an easy language to learn. She speaks Turkish, Polish, German, French and Dutch. She'll be speaking to us today on the subject of reinventing borders. Janice Weiner. [Applause]

Janice Weiner: Thank you very much for that generous introduction. I couldn't help noting as I was listening this morning that here I am at a conference about risk and personal choice representing government. It seems a bit ironic. I will point out, though, that my government did decide it couldn't accept the science of Kyoto. But, to the subject at hand, risk, we all take risks daily. We've listened to a series of speakers this morning talk about a variety of risks facing us in today's society, in fact, I'm taking a risk just standing up here and speaking to you because you're eating lunch and you could decide to throw tomatoes at me, but I decided you'd probably be too polite to do that so it seemed a risk worth taking.

How great the risk is depends very much on your perspective, on how you assess the risk at hand. That applies no less to the border than to other aspects of life. I'll give you one personalized example of risk assessment. When I was assigned to Ankara, Turkey in the mid 1990s, part of my job was to travel to southeastern Turkey where, at the time, Turkish troops were fighting the PKK. I often had to convince our embassy security people that it was actually a risk worth taking. My reasoning ran something like the following. First, I ran a much greater risk of getting injured or killed in a car accident around Ankara than of anything happening to me in southeastern Turkey. Second, we had a conspicuous vehicle. The Turkish military was prenotified of our presence. Third, the PKK had no desire to have the U.S. government breathing directly down its back. And, fourth, we would take reasonable precautions such as staying in towns after dusk. So we took the reasonable precautions, never pulled any silly stunts, and we were fine. Calculated risk. That calculus could have changed if the PKK had decided to start taking aim at foreigners. And while the analogy may sound a bit far-fetched, the problem comes, as is often the case today with the U.S./Canada border, when it becomes difficult to assess the risk. Obviously the United States perspective on our 5,000-mile plus shared border changed dramatically when those airplanes hit the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

What I want to share with you today are different post-9/11 perspectives on risk at the U.S./Canada border. I'll try to approach it from three levels, and I hope in the process make things a bit more transparent. I'll discuss the border first, from the vantage point of government, since I'm part of government, which regulates and enacts laws in an attempt to safeguard its citizens. Second, from the point of view of the customs and immigration inspectors on the ground, and, third, from the standpoint of manufacturers and business people for whom crossing the border daily is a fact of life.

While it's not quite fair to say that the border hadn't been on our radar screen at all before 9/11, it certainly hadn't been at the top of either the U.S. or Canadian government's to do list. This was, after all, the border between two North American friends and allies, what many have referred to as the longest undefended border in the world. But, to the U.S. government, our border suddenly went, literally overnight, from being not of such great concern, to presenting a big question mark that we needed to evaluate, and fast. That did not mean that any terrorists had slipped over our shared border, rather, it meant that in this new world it was no longer a calculable risk. If you were a government you'd probably have come to pretty much the same conclusion, even if it meant disrupting trade, at least temporarily, to prevent another 9/11.

So, from the point of view of the U.S. government, what was the obvious choice? Well, I think it was to talk to their counterparts in Ottawa and form a taskforce to first examine and then deal with the issues. The result was the Ridge-Manley Process between then Governor Tom Ridge and then Deputy Prime Minister John Manley. It was a tremendous success. The Process produced the 30 Point Smart Border Action Plan and most of the items on that Plan have since been addressed. Thus, the first step in reinventing the border in dealing with border risk was, after a serious jolt to the system, to develop a series of steps on how to improve and tighten up the existing system and take action on those steps.

Now here's where perspective matters a lot. If you are a government, that first step made a lot of sense. It resulted in forward movement in areas that should have been resolved years ago but there was insufficient impetus or political will. It wasn't the right time then, but it certainly was after 9/11. The Ridge-Manley Process resulted in a variety of things, including formation of IBETS, or Integrated Border Enforcement Teams, cross-border law enforcement cooperation that allows U.S. and Canadian law enforcement colleagues to join forces both from an operational and from an intelligence-sharing point of view. We now have 14 IBETS operating coast to coast. It resulted in proposals to create new border crossing regimes for low-risk traffic. Programs such as FAST and Nexis, about which I'll talk more in detail later. In other words, regimes that, despite the all important security overlay, would allow our North American economic lifeline to continue to flow.

If you are a government official, you understand that the vision being laid out, even if imperfect, will ultimately result in much improved security, while not completely throwing a wrench into trade. One of the challenges, it turns out, is to articulate that vision and disseminate it widely.

At this point, if your perspective is that of a customs or immigration inspector on the front line, you are inspecting very carefully. The last thing you want during this early transition stage is to be the weakling who lets in someone who could possibly perpetrate the next disaster. You want someone, government, to get you the tools you need to better manager your own risk. If upper layers of government are doing a good job of filtering the message down, you understand that help in the form of new programs and checks is coming, but you are not taking any chances. It is not worth the risk to either your career or to your country. If, however, you are a frequent border crosser, a frequent cross border business traveler or a manufacturer who relies on just in time deliveries to keep your production line running, your blood pressure has gone through the roof.

First, the border shut suddenly on 9/11, an unforeseeable event, forcing you temporarily to shut down production. And now it's open, but traffic is backed up and moving at a snail's pace. The invisible border has suddenly become very visible indeed, and very unpredictable. You are hard at work with your suppliers, juggling timetables, paying higher transport fees, and starting to lobby governments to find a way to expedite low-risk traffic. This is the stuff, for example, that the North American Automotive Industry is made of, faring parts back and forth across the border several times to produce just one vehicle. You see confusion above you and apparently uncooperative inspectors at the border. It is almost impossible at this point to see the bigger picture that Ridge and Manley are planning.

So the process continues, and forgive me for condensing the timeline, but in very rough terms, in early 2003 the Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, comes into being. Its formation represents the single biggest internal U.S. government reorganization since the formation of the Department of Defense after World War II. It is a behemoth, unwieldy, an amalgamation of some 25 departments and agencies that are used to operating on their own. They are located piecemeal around Washington, consolidation will be difficult, to put it mildly.

Immigration and customs, among others, are reorganized. Some pieces put together to form Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, others to create Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and so on. It's a new alphabet soup. Then, in December of 2003, Canada creates its own scale down version, the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness under the leadership of Deputy Prime Minister Ann McClellan. Your border customs and immigration people are also operating under a new acronym, Customs and Border Services Agency, more alphabet soup, more reorganization.

In the U.S. Department of Homeland Security we have, for example, new groups working together, cross-training, learning new rules and procedures, and there are plenty of new rules and procedures involved in gradually implementing this overall vision. It will take time to pull it all together.

And, under the 30 Point Smart Border Action Plan, new programs are introduced, often with mirror images on both sides of the border. Nexis facilitates cross-border travel at land-border crossings for frequent business travelers. Air-Nexis, we hope, will soon be in the pilot program phase, no pun intended. FAST, which stands for Free and Secure Trade, speeds trucks through the border if their companies have cleared their supply chain with both U.S. and Canadian authorities via one program on the U.S. side that's called CTPAT, and that stands for Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, and, in Canada, PIP, which I'm not sure what it stands for. Their manifests are sent ahead electronically to the border 30 minutes before the truck arrives physically. The driver has been vetted and has a fast card as well. We are committed to having dedicated fast lanes at all major border posts by the end of this year. Many Nexis lanes are up and running as well. The directive has gone out publicly to customs and border protection that the traveling public has the right to expect courteous service, and the list goes on.

Then there are the programs that have been mandated separately by the U.S. Congress, including U.S. Visit, which is currently in place at airports, and is set to be in place at the 50 busiest land border crossings by the end of this calendar year. As of September 30th, travelers from so-called Visa waiver countries, that is, those who can enter the U.S. for up to 90 days without a Visa, this has nothing to do with Canada at this point, will be registered by U.S. Visit technology when they enter the country. The goal is for the U.S. government to have a handle on who is in the country. Eventually there will be exit kiosks as well. They are already being piloted in several airports.

The Bio-Terrorism Act of 2000, implemented by the Food & Drug Administration, one of the few U.S. government agencies, it appears, that was not subsumed by the Department of Homeland Security, now has enforceable reporting regulations to cover entry into the U.S. of commercial food shipments.

The list is long. I'm giving it short shrift.

So where do our three stakeholders stand now? For their part, government actors feel that while they can pat themselves on the back for progress made, there's a long way to go. The border inspectors feel they have some of the tools needed at their disposal, but manufacturers and business travelers, if they or their transport trucks are stuck in three kilometer lineups, they are not impressed. They are not sure their border risk has decreased at all and they may be starting to wonder if they should start sourcing parts from their own side of the border be it north or south. What should they do?

I don't mean to sound like a Homeland Security commercial, but, basically, while the registration and reporting requirements of a number of these programs may seem onerous, they have been put in place for you, a balance between, on the one hand, the information government needs to insure that its security imperative is met, and, on the other, the facilitate of elements that low-risk, frequent border crossers need. And if you don't take advantage of those programs, you will stand in line.

The FAST program, as I noted earlier, will be in place at all major land border crossings by the end of this year. It's not easy to access the FAST lane at every crossing, but some really have it right. The Bluewater Bridge, for example, at Sarnia, Point Huron, streams FAST and Nexis traffic from five kilometers out on the 402. I've seen it. It works. They get through the border in probably 3 to 5 minutes, while the others stand in lines that last 3 to 4 hours. So, trucking firms have the choice, make the effort to sign up for FAST, take advantage of this technology and slip through in a manner of minutes or wait in a line that often stretches several kilometers. Right now the inspector in the FAST lane is often twiddling his or her thumbs. The application process isn't working flawlessly yet, but it's definitely worth pursuing. By the same token, the individual business person who holds a Nexis card can zip through the border as long as everyone in the vehicle also has a card, and the Whirlpool Bridge on the Niagara Peninsula was reopened this past March as a Nexis only crossing, in other words, there are no lines.

These are the variables that we can control, the places where we can make our or our businesses border risk calculable. Not all of the variables are that manageable. The border consists of so many moving parts that even my kids, who are very good with computers and DVD remote controls, couldn't keep them all straight. One such variable is infrastructure. It sounds sort of like a bad light bulb joke. How many layers of government have to get involved to build a new border crossing or expand an existing one? Look at the Windsor Gateway and make your own guess. As traffic approaches it pre-9/11 peak, with all the new security arrangements in place, the 1930s vintage infrastructure is inadequate to meet 21st century volume and processing needs. These different layers of government, municipal, provincial or state, and federal, as well as private players, all have to find a way to mesh their interests to get something moving. You can have an impact by letting your elected officials know what is important to you and where.

With all the new variables, extended wait times at the borders, new Visa requirements, though not for Canadians, the requirement of a machine-readable passport for Visa waiver countries, new processing requirements and so forth, there is now a new threat that Canada's industry minister refers to as border risk. The question he poses is whether the border will become too great a risk for business, which will then choose to locate south of the border to avoid the incalculable risks of locating in Canada. I don't have a crystal ball so I can't tell you how real this risk is, but I can pledge to you that from the point of view of the U.S. Mission to Canada, where our Ambassador Paul Celucci [ph.] likes to stress that as the eyes and ears of the U.S. government our job is to let Homeland Security, among others, know what needs to happen to insure that existing programs mesh well and actually function.

We will continue, both here and in Washington, to emphasize that any new infrastructure must be built to deal with the traffic and the new security and technology requirements. I would hope that as people in businesses start to take better advantage of the facilitative border programs that exist, border risk need not become a more serious business risk factor.

Have we caught many terrorists as we expand this security web? It's hard to tell. We've likely deterred some, and we know we've caught at least 280 criminals along the way. Air-Nexis is coming. The container security initiative is in place, which vets cargo shipping containers before they leave their port of origin outside of North America, and this is an effort in which Canada has partnered with the U.S. So the security web is expanding. It will never be perfect, but, if it were, the border would probably be impassable. It's a balance. We are gradually approaching the point where government's vision is becoming clear, where the border inspectors have a greater level of confidence, that they have the necessary toolkit to do their job properly, a toolkit that includes civility and frequent border crossers can sense, at least, that there is indeed a plan here with which they can live if they sign up for the right facilitative programs.

Once again, it is a balance, one that is still in process, and as exasperating as it may sometimes seem, achieving that balance is both necessary and worthwhile. It also happens to be a political reality, and, I would argue, it is a risk worth taking. Thank you very much. [Applause]

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