The Business of Government Hour

 

About the show

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

The interviews

Join the IBM Center for a weekly conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

W. Ralph Basham interview

Friday, December 28th, 2007 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"We approach our investigations and protective responsibilities with the philosophy and methodology of preventing crimes from occurring before they hit the public. We don't want to investigate the assassination of a president, we want to prevent it."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 12/29/2007
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs...

Missions and Programs

Complete transcript: 
Originally Broadcast September 29, 2007

Washington, D.C.

Welcome to The Business of Government Hour, a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The Business of Government Hour is produced by The IBM Center for The Business of Government, which was created in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness.

You can find out more about the Center by visiting us on the web at businessofgovernment.org.

And now, The Business of Government Hour.

Mr. Kamensky: Good morning. I'm John Kamensky, senior fellow of The IBM Center for The Business of Government, sitting in for Albert Morales this morning.

One of today's greatest challenges is protecting the country against terrorists and the instruments of terror while at the same time fostering the country's economic security through lawful travel and trade. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, operates at the nexus of national security and American economic security.

With us this morning to discuss his organization's critical role in balancing security and commerce is our special guest, Ralph Basham, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Good morning, Ralph.

Mr. Basham: Good morning, John.

Mr. Kamensky: Also joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel, director of Homeland Security Services at IBM.

Good morning, Dave.

Mr. Abel: Good morning, John.

Mr. Kamensky: Ralph, maybe we can start our program with you giving us a bit of an overview of the mission and history of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Mr. Basham: Certainly, John. I would just start out by saying that for the first time in our history, there is an agency that is tasked with the responsibility of protecting all of our borders, and that agency is Customs and Border Protection. After 9/11, it was recognized that there was a need to unify our efforts on the border. So when DHS was created, they brought together basically what I would call all of the inspectional services that deal at our ports of entry around the country. And that was the legacy Customs responsibilities who had obviously the customs regulations that they oversaw; the INS, who had the inspectional requirements for admissibility, those people who could come into the country; the Department of Agriculture, who has the responsibility for making sure that we are protecting the country against threats to our agricultural or aquaculture; as well as the entire Border Patrol. Customs and Border Protection now is the agency that is tasked with protecting all of our borders, all 9,000 miles, and all 350 ports of entry into the country.

And it has been, in my opinion, one of the very positive things that has come out of the reorganization. We are approximately in number something I believe around 48-49,000 people at this point in time. Secretary Chertoff has a way of putting it that we are charged with keeping bad things and bad people out of the country. We are enhancing our tools, we are enhancing our training, and we are continuing to bring those entities together to be one unified face at the border.

Mr. Kamensky: You gave us some sense of scale of the 48,000 employees and 350 ports of entry and 9,000 miles of border. How are you organized in your budget -- and maybe like the volume of people and goods that flow into the country?

Mr. Basham: Well, just to give you an idea of the challenge, last year, we processed 420 million people who were coming both in and out of the United States. On any given day, we're processing in excess of 70,000 trucks that are coming through our ports of entry. We are processing over 11 million containers that come into our seaports, something in the neighborhood of 700,000 air passengers that enter this country.

So the magnitude of the job is enormous, and we are obviously under the Department of Homeland Security, and we work very closely with our partner agencies, TSA, Transportation Security Administration -- of course the Coast Guard; our sister agency, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE -- FEMA, and other entities within the Department to help us do our job. I believe that the consolidation of those entities has had a very positive impact on our ability to get control of our borders.

Now, added to that, the additional responsibilities of that area between ports of entry, which traditionally and continues to be the responsibility of the Border Patrol. Border Patrol, by mandate of the President, will actually double in its size between now and the end of '08, going from 9,000 to 18,000 Border Patrol agents. I think what all that says is that this country has finally decided to get serious about controlling our borders, and I believe 9/11 demonstrated that we have to do a better job.

Mr. Abel: I would like to go from that -- the statistics around what CBP does on any given day and during the course of the year are amazing, and the amount of border that the Border Patrol has to cover is tremendous as well. Within the organization -- you're one person within the organization -- what type of responsibilities do you have within CBP as the Commissioner?

Mr. Basham: I have a traditional responsibility, that I oversee all of the operational, administrative responsibilities of the agency. I think it's a very simple responsibility. I believe my job is to ensure that the men and women of CBP have the tools and have the resources that they need in order to get their job done.

And that of course means working with the Department of Homeland Security, that means working with the sister agencies, that means working with the Congress and with the administration to provide to those agents and officers and personnel out there that when they're asked to do a job, when they're asked to perform a responsibility, that they have the tools that they need to get that done.

Mr. Abel: How do you relate -- you mentioned a number of other organizations within the Department of Homeland Security and the Department itself -- how regularly do you relate with other leaders of organizations within DHS?

Mr. Basham: The Deputy Secretary, Michael Jackson, when he took over in that position, thought that it would be very helpful and useful if the seven operational components of DHS met on a regular basis. We literally meet weekly with the commandant of the Coast Guard, the Director of the Secret Service, the Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the director of FEMA. We do share information, we look to share resources; I left out Kip Hawley, who is the administrator at TSA as well.

But we have found that by just merely sitting down and talking at that level, that there are many, many opportunities that we can work together to show a one sort of face to the public out there. We've done some very interesting, very innovative missions together to show that we are there, that the enforcement arm of DHS is present. Coast Guard, Secret Service, TSA, ICE, and CBP have joined together to go out and to work common operations out there in the field.

Mr. Abel: So if we take the complexity of what CBP does on a regular basis and combine that with the complexity within the Department and the other organizations in the Department, it seems to me that there's probably not a day that goes by that something new and challenging and interesting doesn't come up.

Can you, maybe highlight for us two or three of the most significant challenges that you've had in your role so far?

Mr. Basham: Well, I believe that CBP needs to be an intelligence-driven organization. Everyday, as I said before, we process literally hundreds of millions of people. We collect tremendous amounts of information, and I have felt since my arriving here that we need to do a better job of collecting and analyzing and disseminating that information both back out to the field operators so that they have a better idea of exactly what the threats are and where the threats may be coming from, and at the same time, I think CBP can contribute in a very large way up to the larger national intelligence responsibilities.

And so what I have done is created a new office within CBP for Assistant Commissioner for Intelligence and Operations Coordination, and that's to give us more knowledge, give us a better idea of what the threats are, and then we will make a determination as to how to address those threats.

Another challenge that I feel is incredibly important is making sure that CBP has integrity. One of the things I think in law enforcement -- and I've had 37 years in law enforcement -- is to be credible. Law enforcement has to demonstrate that integrity, that they can be trusted. So I have also, since I've been there, have built and expanded our internal affairs organization, so that we can be proactive and make sure that we know where we may have problems and vulnerabilities within our own work force.

When you have as many law enforcement personnel that are stationed out there on the border, we just have to make sure that our employees understand the vulnerability that they face. I mean, I'll tell you, I believe that CBP, the Border Patrol, as well as our officers at the ports of entry, work in the highest threat environment -- maybe in the world -- to corruption. I don't have to tell you. I'm sure you've read the stories about the drug cartels and the people who are smuggling in illegal immigrants, and there's just tremendous amounts of money. The temptation is very, very high. I want to make sure we have the ability to be out in front of those kinds of issues.

And the other thing that I've worked very hard on, and every day I work hard on, is developing partnerships, whether it's with the Secret Service or Federal Law Enforcement Training Center or the Transportation Security Administration or here at CBP, I have recognized that probably the most important, if maybe not the most important issue, is to develop the kind of partnerships that's going to get our job done. We can't do this job by ourselves.

We have to rely upon state and local partners, other federal partners, the private sector, in order to get out our job done. So I would list the issues of an intelligence-driven organization, issues of integrity within our own work force, and to continue to develop the partnerships that are necessary to get job done -- the requirements that we have.

Mr. Kamensky: This is really fascinating. You mentioned that you have a 37-year career history. Could you give us a little description of your career path for our listeners? Sort of how did you begin your career and stuff.

Mr. Basham: I don't know if we have enough time on this program, but I will try. I started my career with the United States Secret Service back in 1970, as a special agent in our Washington field office here in Washington, D.C., and I spent 28 years in the Secret Service and had a very, very wide range of duties within the Secret Service.

And then in 1998, Secretary Rubin asked if I would go to be the director of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia, and as you know, it has a responsibility of training the majority of the nation's federal law enforcement agents and officers as well as state and local. Spent four years in that position, and it was a tremendous opportunity.

And then September the 11th occurred. I was asked to come back to Washington to assist in the start-up of the Transportation Security Administration, TSA. And I was the first chief of staff in that position. And my job basically was to build the organization and to staff the organization. Spent about a year in that position -- a little over a year in that position helping start up TSA.

Then the President asked me to come back to the Secret Service as the director. And so in 2003, I went back as the director of the Secret Service. And then in 2006, the President asked me to come to take the job of Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. But I can tell you, I've been extremely, in my mind, fortunate to have had these wonderful opportunities to help, quite frankly, to protect the country. So I consider it to be a privilege and not a chore.

Mr. Kamensky: How did these different positions in your career help you to craft the kind of management and leadership style you use now?

Mr. Basham: I think because, as I said earlier, one of the things that I feel is very important in any organization, and that is to build partnerships. As a young Secret Service agent, and throughout my career in the Secret Service, recognizing that Secret Service is a small organization and has a big, huge task, a huge mission -- and in order to get that mission accomplished, you have to rely upon the partnerships and leverage those partnerships and work with others in order to meet those requirements. And so I believe that I developed a very collaborative style of management.

I also believe that that same collaborative style works no matter what level you are within an organization, that within an organization, you also have to be willing to leverage those same partnerships with your own employees, and to make sure that those employees feel like that they are part of the organization, they're part of the effort, that they are respected and recognized for those efforts.

And so I think I would be probably considered as a collaborative manager, but I also feel that because of the experiences that I've had of dealing with the different organizations, the different structures of those organizations, that it truly has given me an opportunity to fashion my own style. And I believe that style is really one that served me well, recognizing that these jobs are tough, and sometimes, you have to make very tough decisions.

And so it's that combination, I think.

Mr. Kamensky: What is CBP's multilayered security strategy?

We will ask Ralph Basham, Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Kamensky: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, John Kamensky, and this morning's conversation is with Ralph Basham, Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Also joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel, director of Homeland Security Services at IBM.

Ralph, would you tell us about the new Office of Intelligence and Operations Coordination that you mentioned earlier? How is it going to enhance CBP's capabilities and help you transform CBP into a fully integrated and intelligence-driven organization, which is one of your top priorities?

Mr. Basham: John, first, CBP is now a collection of legacy agencies: INS, Agriculture, the Border Patrol, and Customs. And each of those entities had its own form of collecting information and disseminating information. And I believe that it's important that we coordinate that effort, and that we have one way of collection, one way of analyzing, and one way of disseminating. We now combine that within one structure. And so by creating this new office and bringing all of those structures together to have one view of the world versus two or three views of the world was the purpose for which I brought it together.

Whatever the situation may bring to us, to have one place, a one-stop shopping that we could go to in order to be able to first of all identify and then make decisions as to how we are going to react to or interdict or mitigate a particular problem. I have to say it's in its infancy, and of course, any time when you're trying to reorganize and restructure, you've got a lot of challenges. You've got challenges that relate to cultural issues. You've got challenges that relate to connectivity.

How do you connect all of these different entities out there? The staffing is incredibly important. Who goes into those particular entities, finding the right person to run it. It's very important that you have the right person that is recognized as someone who can relate to and understands that world. But I believe that it's my responsibility to put in place a foundation for the next commissioners to make decisions on where they wanted to go with it. I recognize we can't get this done in the period of time I have, but at least by laying that foundation that they can then build upon I think is an important move.

Mr. Kamensky: Well, a clear priority for both Homeland Security and CBP is achieving operational control of our borders. Could you tell us a little bit more about your strategy in this area, specifically how the Secure Border Initiative as well as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, factor into this strategy?

Mr. Basham: Again, I have to go back to September the 11th, and former Commissioner Bonner recognized that we could not afford for our borders to be the first line of defense, and that we needed to push our borders out and literally make our borders the last line of defense. Commissioner Bonner and his team put into place a number of initiatives that drove toward that objective. They created the requirement that people who were shipping goods to this country, that they had to give us a 24-hour notice of what was going to be coming to the United States, whether it was in a container or whether it was in an aircraft, whatever it was, that we needed to have advance information prior to that item or that person coming. They also at that time created the National Targeting Center, where they took that information, analyzed that information and made determinations as to whether or not that posed a threat to us; whether it was a container or whether it was an individual.

The partnerships -- as I said, that Commissioner Bonner recognized that again -- this was legacy Customs -- could not do this job alone. He reached out to the trade community and basically formulated a new partnership, and that's called the Customs and Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, C-TPAT, where the trade provides to Customs at that time, information that relates to the supply chain, and exactly what they are doing in the trade to secure their own supply chain, which helps us then make determinations on what posed the threat.

Recognizing again this was a global issue. It wasn't strictly a United States issue. So reaching out to foreign governments, creating the Container Security Initiative, which was meant to provide us again advance information as to what was in those containers, who stuffed those containers. And so that became a huge part of the strategy in applying technology. Radiation portal monitors that check for anything that may be within a container that may pose a threat from radiation.

The technology that was employed was the non-intrusive inspection, an X-ray, gamma ray, so you can see inside, which means that you don't have to open up the box to tell what's in there. But the key element here in all of these is that the information that you are requesting and the type of information that you request, which means that you're better able to assess the risk, and so that you focus your attention on what those threats are and the level of risk it may present, reducing the size of the haystack so that you focus on only those things that present a risk.

What is so important here is that you have to strike a balance, you have to strike a balance between security and facilitation, because if you apply a heavy layer of security which then impedes the ability to move goods and services, then in effect, what you have done is you've allowed them to win, because now they have attacked our economy. So the Secure Border Initiative is basically the same, in that you are pushing your borders out and you're getting advance information on individuals and things that may be coming into this country that may pose a threat or cause harm to our citizens or to our nation or our agricultural systems out there.

So SBInet was created. Sort of -- it's a three-pronged approach. The first is getting our border secured. That is also a layered approach. The second leg in that three-legged stool is interior enforcement, where our sister agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is charged with the responsibility of enforcing the laws within the United States that deal with hiring illegal immigrants. And the third leg on that stool was developing a temporary worker program or a guest worker program, because, recognizing that there is a need for labor in this country, we need to come up with a system by which we can allow people to come into this country and work, but we want them to do that legally, not illegally. We want them to come through our front door and not try to get through our backdoor. So SBI is really about those three initiatives to be able to get the borders controlled.

Mr. Abel: I want to go back to one of the points that you made a moment ago about reducing the size of the haystack. And you mentioned in the first segment your priority about being able to collect valuable intelligence information. And now in the second segment, you've mentioned to us that there is a need to be able to cull down that valuable intelligence information to things that are actionable or things that you can respond to.

One of the systems that we read about or hear about frequently is ATS, or the Automated Targeting System. Can you tell us a little bit about what ATS is, and what things you're working on to enhance it and to provide benefits from ATS?

Mr. Basham: ATS, the Automated Targeting System, is a system that is in place. There's two elements to it. One is about looking at people that are coming to the United States and the other, which we've just started to develop, is to look at cargo that comes into the United States.

And for many years, Customs and legacy Immigration has been using information that was provided to them to make the determination as to whether or not a person is admissible to the United States, and by collecting what they called advance passenger information using PNR, which is the Personal Name Record Information, and then running that information against a set of rules and a set of databases to make the determination as to whether or not a person, first of all, presents a threat to this country from a terrorist perspective; and then secondly, determining whether that person, when they arrive here, can be admitted. Those two pieces of information we collect, we want to make that determination before that person arrives in this country.

And we just last week announced through Secretary Chertoff, with Kip Hawley, the administrator at TSA an expanded initiative with that -- it was called AQQ. And that means APIS Quick Query, which means before someone gets on an airplane in a foreign country, that we run those names against the two lists, the Terrorist Watch List and the No-Fly List, to be able to make a determination at that point whether that person should or should not get on that airplane.

Heretofore, legacy Customs and CBP would vet that information after the aircraft left for the United States. Now we're going to be vetting that information prior to that aircraft actually leaving out of that airport. It is eventually going to be -- it's called SecureFlight, which TSA within the next year or so will be taking on all of that responsibility of vetting all of those passengers against those lists, and so working with TSA, we are able to better make that determination.

Of course, that means that we have to have the right information. We have to have the right information to be able to make a determination on that person's -- whether they pose a threat or don't pose a threat. Same thing with the cargo side, running that information against a set of rules to make a determination as to whether we want to, first of all, allow that container to place on the vessel to begin with. And if that poses a high-enough risk in our targeting tools, we pull that container aside and physically, or using radiation portal monitors or the other gamma X-ray types of equipment, make a determination as to what's in there so that we can clear that and allow that shipper to put it on the ship.

It does not mean, however, that that's the end of it, and throughout that time that that cargo is moving, we're running it against other targeting tools, so that even when it comes into the United States, we still can pull that container aside and inspect that container. By the end of '08, every single container coming into the United States will go through radiation portal monitors -- 100 percent is going to be inspected and screened. So it's all about, again, pushing out those borders.

Mr. Abel: In a number of the examples you've given us, there is a requirement for contradictory behaviors, and even in the mission of CBP in providing security and facilitation of trade at the same time, one of those that's most striking to me is that a law enforcement organization, CBP, as a significant law enforcement component, has a history of collecting information and using it for law enforcement, but also now has the need to be able to share that information with other organizations in the Department of Homeland Security, throughout our government or other governments as well. How do you inspire behavior in the organization to be able to promote the sharing of information as opposed to keeping information very tightly held?

Mr. Basham: I have to give Secretary Chertoff and the Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson a tremendous amount of credit here, because they've made it very clear that the mission is a DHS mission; it's not a mission of individual and separate components. The information that I have, that I collect, that can assist -- whether it's the Coast Guard or TSA or whether it's ICE or any of our sister agencies, Secret Service -- if I have information that's going to be able to help them accomplish their mission, it's really all about a DHS mission.

It's about our responsibility to protect this country against bad things and bad people from getting in, and they've made it very clear that our first responsibility is making sure that the information that we collect gets to the people that can use the information. And so I have worked very hard within CBP to make sure that that becomes institutionalized. So whether it's the Citizens and Immigration Services, you know, that they collect information who we need and can provide assistance to us in getting our mission done, or TSA or whomever. That is a critical component that's necessary if we are truly going to be one agency with the mission of protecting the homeland.

Mr. Kamensky: We talked a little bit about your goal of intelligence-driven organization, and we just now talked a little bit about the collaborative efforts and partnerships that you're looking at. The third one was integrity. And integrity, as you have said, is the soul of any law enforcement agency, and you've placed important emphasis on it, especially with your frontline officers.

I understand that one of your first actions as Commissioner was to create this internal affairs office that you mentioned earlier, and developed a comprehensive integrity strategy. Could you tell us a little bit more about this strategy and the importance this has on the success of your organization?

Mr. Basham: As you pointed out, one of my first moves when I became Commissioner -- and I have to say that former Commissioner Bonner recognized this as a priority for CBP -- and I'll say it from the outset that 99.99 percent of our workforce out there I believe to be of high integrity and commitment to the mission or the organization. But we all recognize that it only takes one person to bring down all of the efforts of the entire organization, whether it's someone who is facilitating the movement of drugs across our borders illegally, whether it's someone who is transporting illegal aliens across our borders, whether it's someone that is trying to bring in something that is going to attack our agricultural system; all those being obviously things that I am concerned about.

But if that individual who may -- he or she -- who may turn their back for a few moments to allow something to come into this country -- and that something becomes the last component that's going to go into a device that may bring havoc and cause huge deaths in this country, that's something that we cannot tolerate.

I believe that it's my responsibility to make sure that we have an organizational structure within CBP so that I can police my own workforce. We work very closely with our partners in ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, on this issue, and we work very collaboratively on this issue. But I still feel that with a workforce of 48,000 people plus, of which probably 38,000 of those are law enforcement officers who have the responsibility of protecting our borders -- I may have said it earlier; they work in one of the highest threat environments in the world when it comes to corruption.

And we've got to be able to show them that that responsibility and their judgment and their decisions could very well have a very dramatic impact on this country. So that's why I feel strongly that we have to have a policing organization within our organization to take a look at that, to be proactive. I don't want to investigate. I want to prevent.

Mr. Kamensky: How is CBP managing its border and port security strategy?

We will ask Ralph Basham, Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Kamensky: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, John Kamensky, and this morning's conversation is with Ralph Basham, Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Also joining our conversation is Dave Abel, Director of Homeland Security Services at IBM.

Ralph, Congress passed the Security and Accountability for Every Port Act, or SAFE Act, about a year ago. What's the status of its implementation, and how does it help your agency do a better job?

Mr. Basham: John, we believe that the SAFE Port Act actually did in fact codify those things that we have been doing -- in talking about C-TPAT, as I mentioned before, the Customs and Trade Partnership Against Terrorism; to expand that. The Container Security Initiative, CSI, to expand that; in fact to even expand it to what we are calling this Secure Freight Initiative, which expands our presence in overseas ports.

It directed that we create a third party validation process by which we're out working with the trade to validate whether or not the security enhancements that are required within C-TPAT are actually being carried out.

So we believe that the Act codified what we were doing, gave us direction in terms of what they would like to see us do to enhance those safeguards. And right now, we are in 52 ports around the country where we have our presence of Customs and Border Protection Employees working with our foreign counterparts to look at these 11 million-plus containers coming to the United States, and to determine from a risk-based strategy which one of those containers should not be loaded upon a vessel that comes to the United States.

We've also been directed to pilot ports overseas that will be doing an integrated inspection, which would include both radiation detection as well as inspecting for other threats that may be posed in those containers. By the end of '08, we expect to be in 58 ports, which would be approximately 85 percent of the cargo coming to the United States will go through a screening prior to departing for the United States.

And let me just clarify my talk about screening, or inspection. We get advance information in the way of entry data that is filed by the shipper, the importer, and we take that data, and we run it against a set of targeting tools and rule sets to make that determination as to whether or not that particular container may pose a threat. So we look at every single container from that perspective, and then if we determine that we need to do another level of inspection, then our employees and these ports do in fact work with the foreign government to inspect it further.

So it doesn't mean that every single container that is coming to the United States has been opened and the contents looked at. If we were to have to do that, it would literally shut down world trade, because the amount of time that it would take for us to stop the shipment to physically inspect it would be so time-consuming that we couldn't move products and services around the world. So it has to be a risk-based approach, and that's why it's so important to determine the type of information we need in advance using the kinds of tools that we have to analyze that information, and then make the determination as to what does in fact pose a risk.

Mr. Kamensky: You had mentioned this SecureFreight Initiative; I understand that it includes this concept of a trade data fusion center, and that Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson announced recently that we're going to develop some pilot called a Global Trade Exchange to turn this concept into reality. Could you tell us a little bit about how this Global Trade Exchange fits into your multilayer security strategy?

Mr. Basham: Well, we are still working with the trade to make a determination exactly what that is going to look like. It would probably be somewhat premature for me to describe exactly what the end product is going to be. The Deputy Secretary feels very strongly that trade is really the answer to developing a global system -- in order to be able to determine from a global perspective what may be a threat and what's not a threat.

But the idea that you have one entity that is collecting information on trade that's moving throughout the world, and that whether it's the importer or the shipper can provide that information into this centralized process. And then if you have a need for that information, that you go into that system and take out whatever information is necessary; whether it be for purposes of collecting of revenue, whether it be for information that may be security-related. Now, to suggest that that's not a very difficult process to go through to finally determine what that's going to be and how it's going to be coordinated; but I think he believes that this can't be something that the U.S. government can do.

Because for someone, or some entity, or some government, foreign government or a shipper that would not want to be putting information into a U.S. government-controlled entity. So creating a sort of a master card sort of approach to doing business where all that information goes in, and that's then disseminated out. So that's the idea, because we are living in a global society when it comes to trade.

Right now, the trade, the amount of containerized cargo that is going to be moving into this country alone is predicted to go from 11 million containers now, double by 2015 and triple by 2025. And so to manage that, we're going to have to look at different systems -- different business models, and I believe the Deputy Secretary is challenging the private sector to come up with possible solutions in order to face those future challenges.

Mr. Abel: You mentioned a minute ago that if you crack open every container, you shut down global trade. So CBP has recently initiated a request for advance information, also know as 10+2. What benefits come from collecting this information, and how's that going to be implemented going forward as well?

Mr. Basham: The security filing, or 10+2, as you referred to it, gives us additional data. And let me just say right now, we have been working very, very closely with COAC -- COAC, which is the Commercial Operators Advisory Committee -- and it's made up of approximately 20 companies and entities that we work with to develop these kinds of processes. Been working over the last several years with COAC to come up with a list of data items that we feel are necessary in order to give us better insight into what it is that's coming into the country.

These are data elements that deal with security. This is not about compliance. We're not using this system to determine whether or not an importer or a shipper is in compliance. These are strictly for the purpose of determining what presents a security risk. So we worked very closely with them to come up with these 12 additional data elements. So we are going to be driving very hard to get those additional data elements into place, hopefully by the end of this year.

The more information we have, the more advanced information we have, or the more specific that information is, the better we are going to be able to manage the incredible numbers of containerized cargo that's coming into United States. Without that, without those tools, we just don't believe that we can manage this in a way that is balancing between security and facilitation.

And I believe they're going to be able to provide us that ability to move that trade even more efficiently. In fact, as was said before, we instituted C-TPAT and CSI and some of these other programs that these security enhancements were going to bring trade to a grinding halt. And just recently, the World Bank released an article that stated it had actually greased the wheels, that it made it more efficient. So it's been an interesting process to go through. But I think not only just to secure this country, but it actually is helping to move trade.

Mr. Kamensky: There's another strategy here as well, and we've talked a lot about the collection of advanced information, and using data to be able to narrow down the haystack. And not to oversimplify this, but there is also the possibility to be able to examine containers without opening them; to look for the presence of radiological materials, to use advanced technology such as Advanced Spectroscopic Portals, things of this nature. What are some of the things that you're doing with advance technology to be able to scan containers without opening them?

Mr. Basham: Well, we are about to deploy our 1000th portal radiation detector here in this country. And again, the advanced spectroscopic radiation detection equipment is not only going to be able to tell us whether or not there may be radiation present, but it will be able to tell us the type, it will be able to identify it. Because there are certain products out there that create false positives in terms of it alerting on a product, whether it may be Italian marble or kitty litter or whatever the case may be.

This advanced spectroscopic will give us that ability to be able to identify and measure that and tell us, okay, we do not have to inspect that because that is this product. That's what we're moving toward and testing as we speak. As well as working to improve the other types of technology that -- the non-intrusive types of technology, the X-ray, gamma ray type of -- where you're able to scan a -- let's just say a trailer -- and be able to see in that trailer and identify anomalies that may exist. Because you're looking at an entry document and it tells you that you've got a certain product. Let's just say they are tennis shoes. You know the density and you know all the physics about that particular product, and when you scan a container and you see that there are anomalies in that shipment, that's when you actually pull that shipment aside and inspect it. So that's the sort of technology that we're working.

Mr. Kamensky: One of the things that becomes obvious as we talk through this, you mentioned statistics early in the program, with the numbers of millions of trucks and cargo containers and people that come through our ports on an annual basis. One of the things that's important in that is your ability to be able to communicate effectively with trade.

And I'm not sure if all of our listeners are aware of the fact that for many years, CBP has been modernizing its technology capability to communicate with trade through the Automated Commercial Environment. Can you give a little bit of overview of what ACE, the Automated Commercial Environment, is, and what milestones you expect upcoming?

Mr. Basham: Well, ACE, the Automated Commercial Environment, was created in fact under former Commissioner Robert Bonner, who basically put out the challenge that unless you move from a paper process to an electronic process, then you are not going to survive. And so the idea of creating electronic filing for shippers/importers has been underway for many years.

We have -- I believe -- it's 26 different government agencies that now are a part of ACE. What that means is that a shipper or an importer or whoever that needs to get information either from or put into the federal government can go through a one-stop shopping process.

ACE is truly, in my opinion, the key to our success in managing all of those statistics that we talked about earlier. Whether it's the ability for a freight company to be able to file an electronic manifest before it arrives at a port of entry, and the ability to analyze that information and process that information, and again be able to move that through a port, that is where ACE I believe provides the greatest benefit. And that is through facilitation and the ability for those entities out there to come to the government, and only one place in the government.

Mr. Kamensky: What does the future hold for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection?

We will ask Ralph Basham, Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Kamensky: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, John Kamensky, and this morning's conversation is with Ralph Basham, Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Also joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel, Director of Homeland Security Services at IBM.

Mr. Abel: Ralph, let's look into the future a little bit. What trends do you see over the next three to five years that are going to have a significant impact on CBP?

Mr. Basham: I think we discussed to some degree the challenges that CBP is going to be facing with respect to the sheer volume of people coming, moving into and out of the United States, the volume of containerized cargo that is moving in and out of the United States. And I believe that those people, the entities out there that would do us harm, are going to constantly be looking for vulnerabilities within our systems.

As you know, they're incredibly patient in looking for those vulnerabilities, and we have got to continue to be vigilant. We've got to continue to develop systems, and systems within systems, to protect this country. In 1993, they attacked the World Trade Center. They did not succeed. They came back.

I don't believe that just because we have not been attacked, that we cannot be attacked or that we will not be attacked, because I think there is still a great desire on their part, on their behalf, and they are fixated on the aviation industry, as we have seen in last summer, in the UK threat, when they attempted to blow up airplanes coming to the United States. So I think the challenge is that we cannot become complacent, and we have got to constantly remind ourselves that we are in a long, long battle here, a battle of philosophies.

So I think that our responsibility within CBP is to make sure, as I said earlier, that our employees are well-informed, that our employees are well-equipped, and our employees understand the mission of this organization is vital to the safety, security and the economic well-being of this country. And I think that trade partnering with other government entities is going to be necessary if we're truly going to succeed. We cannot get this job done alone. DHS cannot get this job done alone.

And I think you have seen Secretary Chertoff and Deputy Secretary Jackson has stressed continuously the need to provide information, share information, share resources, both within in our government and with our partners out there in the state and local who are charged with the same responsibilities. So I believe that the challenges are great, and I think that we're going to have to be ready to meet those challenges when it comes to protecting the country. We cannot turn our backs on our traditional responsibilities.

We still have tremendous problems with drugs in our society. We've got to continue to battle against drugs getting into the hands of our children who are dying every day here in this country. We cannot turn our backs on the traditional responsibilities of making sure that other bad people don't get into this country that want to do us harm -- protecting our agriculture, protecting our infrastructure.

So we can't turn our backs on any of these responsibilities, and I think if you asked the Secretary what the Department of Homeland Security is about is about protecting the United States against all threats, whether they be natural or whether they be manmade. And so I think that is a huge challenge ahead for us. I would just say that men and women of CBP, I remind them every day that their job is protecting America. And I also tell them -- I feel strongly that it's a wonderful time to be in the business of protecting borders, but it's also a challenging time. And when they come into work every day, if they think about that responsibility, I don't know that how you cannot get excited about that.

Mr. Kamensky: One of the things that we ask a lot of our guests that come on to our show is about the pending government employee retirement wave. You were just talking about how important it is for having the right kind of employees and having them focusing on the mission. How are you planning for or handling this pending retirement wave in CBP, and how do you make sure that you have the right staff mix to meet the challenges that you are facing?

Mr. Basham: John, that is obviously a problem for not just CBP but for the entire federal government. I have a problem at both ends of that spectrum because of the massive hiring initiative that we are under right now in the Border Patrol. I believe the average time in terms of experience within the Border Patrol right now is somewhere around two to three years. And as you know, the President has mandated that we double the size of the Border Patrol.

And so we have to make sure that as we are bringing on new employees, that we are able to develop the kinds of people within the organization that can pass along the experience and be the mentors to the new developing population there. Many, many agencies are vying for the same talent in terms of law enforcement.

So we are trying to make sure that our middle managers and individuals who are coming up through the ranks are getting the proper type of training that is being provided, the proper mentorship, so that as these experienced agents, officers, employees leave CBP, that we want to have those individuals who could step into that responsibility. I would like to create a system where -- like sticking your finger in a bucket of water: when you stick it in, it makes a hole, but when you pull it out it fills right back in. And so that's the responsibility. It's to make sure we have a system in place where we're providing people opportunities to develop the kind of skills that's going to be necessary for them to move up and take on even greater responsibilities.

Mr. Kamensky: You're the guardian of this nation's borders in CBP. And it plays a critical role in the security and safety of our country. What steps are you taking to attract and maintain a high quality workforce?

Mr. Basham: Well, it's obviously something that is paramount in any organization, that the type of people that you recruit really is going to determine the type of organization that you're going to be. And so we work very hard to make sure that we are providing the proper training, the proper opportunities, and I believe very, very strongly in that we have to develop a very diverse organization, that we need to recruit and hire and train and promote individuals that represent America.

Demographics of this country are changing, and we have to be ready to adapt and change as well. There's not a day that goes by that I'm not talking to our managers about making sure that we are looking to hire and bring on diversity, that we are providing opportunities for a diverse workforce. That is a very big element in our planning as we move forward, and so I can assure you that we just recently had initiatives, recruiting drives out across the country to try to accomplish that very goal.

Mr. Kamensky: You've had a very interesting career within public service. So I'm curious, what advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in public service?

Mr. Basham: I can't imagine having done anything else in my life, to be honest with you. I've certainly had an incredible opportunity to serve this country. I think every individual, no matter who they are, should consider at some point in their life doing something in the area of public service. It may not be financially rewarding, but I could assure you it can be personally very rewarding and very gratifying to be able to do something that is going to either serve this country or provide the safety and security of this country.

In my opinion, you know, those individuals who have had this experience, I think it gives them a better understanding of this government and the way this government works. And we need good, strong individuals to join in our efforts, because they are really what's going to make a determination as to whether we succeed or whether we fail.

So it doesn't mean you have to select a career in public service, but spend some time. Go out in your neighborhoods and volunteer, and do things in your own neighborhood. It doesn't mean you have to come to Washington and join the federal government, but whatever you can do in your own communities, in your own neighborhoods to be able to add value, to give something back I think is just incredibly important, and in my opinion, incredibly rewarding.

Mr. Kamensky: We've reached the end of our time, and that'll have to be our last question. I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule. But more importantly, Dave and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to the country.

Mr. Basham: Well, if I could, I'd just like to get in a plug, if I may. As you know, we're in the process of hiring a lot of people into this organization, and we're looking for qualified people. And if I could just put in a plug for www.cbp.gov to go on our website and get an understanding and appreciation of what we do, and if you are interested in joining this organization, we'd be very, very pleased to have you.

Mr. Kamensky: That's great.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Ralph Basham, Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

My co-host has been Dave Abel, director of Homeland Security at IBM.

As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad who can't hear this morning's show on how we're improving the government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support.

For The Business of Government Hour, I'm John Kamensky.

Thank you for listening.

This has been The Business of Government Hour.

Be sure to join us every Saturday at 9:00 a.m., and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There, you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's conversation.

Until next week, it's businessofgovernment.org.

 
 
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W. Ralph Basham interview
12/29/2007
"We approach our investigations and protective responsibilities with the philosophy and methodology of preventing crimes from occurring before they hit the public. We don't want to investigate the assassination of a president, we want to prevent it."

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