Friday, April 11, 2008

Department of Homeland Insanity

When I first read it, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Perhaps it was only news in the northeast. Anyway, recently the officials of the U.S. Border Protection and Customs Agency decreed that Lake Erie fishing charter captains must obtain a passport or two forms of ID from customers, and then call in to the Border Patrol one hour prior to crossing into Canadian waters to provide a passenger list for background checks. This would be required even if the charter boat captain had no intention of landing on Canadian soil.

Today the Border Patrol relented. Passengers will have to call in only if they intend to land at a Canadian port. Very good! The tragedy is that this rule was promulgated in the first place, because it shows us the mindset of people who are responsible for guarding our borders. Some of them have no sense at all, and the problem obviously goes up the chain of command. This is confirmed by Senseless Story #2, which follows.

I travel through Canada occasionally to visit my relatives in Detroit. I enter Canada near Buffalo and exit Canada at Port Huron. On this trip I usually view an amazing sight - long lines of trucks backed up at the border waiting for clearance. Once, the line was a mind-boggling five miles long at the Michigan border. Think of the amount of diesel fuel wasted and trucker hours lost! Of course, this cost is not borne by the government; it's borne by you and me when we pay higher prices for the goods in those trucks, or by the owners of trucking companies that fail due to the impact of such government stupidity.

The World Trade Center tragedy happened more than six years ago, and the Department of Homeland Insanity was born not much afterwards. It has many important jobs, including trying to prevent some people and some stuff from coming into the country. That's not an easy job. The tough thing is to separate the tiny percentage of excludables from the giant percentage of perfectly fine people who show up at the border. Have they done a good job in this area? No.

The trick to succeeding in the separation process is to find a way to pass the good guys through quickly, with little effort or resources, so that most effort is spent on the potential bad guys. The situation also presents itself at airports, where I, my wife, and my 80 year old mother have been treated, unnecessarily, as potential terrorists. Why has our government made so little progress in this area since 9/11? Stupidity comes to mind as a possible and likely reason.

There's not enough blog space to go into a deep discussion of solutions to these problems. However, given that the government and the credit agencies know an incredible amount of information about me already, and that techniques like biometrics-based security are well advanced, it's hard to believe it should take more than 15 seconds to pass my wife and I through the border or onto an airplane.

Another possibility is the use of decentralized clearance stations to eliminate bottlenecks like the truck line. Rather than having two or three truck entrances at the absolute border, why not have 25 entrances at a checkpoint less than one mile inside the U.S.? There is nothing preventing this solution except our government's inability to do the obvious, and it's another example to prove that Bush got a fake MBA.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for border security. I just worry when the people in charge of it don't seem to know how to tie their shoelaces. What does this tell you about their ability to catch the smart bad guys? Perhaps they should contract out our security to Wal-Mart, a company that knows much more about how to get things done and done right in the mass market.

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