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Doan Says Lack of Funding Will Not Stop Push to Improve Land Ports

Remarks by
 Lurita Alexis Doan
Administrator
U.S. General Services Administration
Border Trade Alliance International Conference
Washington, DC
April 1, 2008


Thank you very much, Art and Maria Louisa. It’s great to be back with kindred spirits and so many friends. 

A short time ago I attended my daughter’s high school play of “Annie.”  I think you all know the play…it’s about Little Orphan Annie, a perennial optimist who, even when things don’t look so good, sings about better times tomorrow.  “The Sun'll come out tomorrow….Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow…there’ll be sun!"

As I listened to that song, I thought about our urgent need to build more inspection booths, infrastructure, roads, and ports of entry (POE) and how, all too often, the response to this urgent need was always about tomorrow.  

Twenty-two months ago when I started this job, GSA was too complacent.  The sad truth is that in the past, GSA never viewed POES as a critical asset.  GSA had some good people working on the issue, but they were too few, scattered, and not well supported.  Worse yet, GSA did not always take the leadership role and, oftentimes, merely waited for other federal agencies, such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to define even the most basic of requirements.  Not too surprisingly, when someone from the stakeholder community, folks such as you at the BTA, would ask when new improvements could be expected, the answer was too often tomorrow, tomorrow, always tomorrow. 

But during the past 22 months, a lot has changed:

  • GSA has significantly shortened the time it takes to design and build a land port, cutting years from the old process;
  • GSA has made the process more transparent, and sought new innovative and more dynamic ideas from folks like BTA;
  • GSA has opened the ports of entry process to state and local leaders and now is working directly with folks at the local level to develop practical ideas; 
  • GSA encouraged greater private sector participation, since infrastructure projects are also perfect opportunities for public-private partnerships; 
  • And I made sure the GSA Port of Entry Program reports became one of GSA highest priorities with direct reports to the administrator each month on progress. 

I hope you are beginning to see progress: 

- GSA has firmly grasped the leadership role in building additional infrastructure at our nation’s POES.  Our goal, as I announced last February, is to ignite a building boom at land ports across the nation; building what we can, where we can, as fast as we can.  We no longer need anyone to tell us what GSA should have already known, namely that our POES need more inspection booths, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure to meet demands from legitimate trade and travelers that are too often caught in long lines.

- For the first time in our nation’s history, we have four new POES---brand new crossing points---- all under construction at one time.  San Luis II, Donna, Calais, and most recently at Jackman, Maine.  Well actually, I have to tell you that last week, I was in (four-degree) Jackman, Maine with Senator Collins for the groundbreaking of the newest POE.   The only problem was that the land was frozen, so it was more of a ground-denting! 

I can honestly tell you that it has not been easy to turn all of this around.  Lots of people in town are not too happy with a more assertive GSA, nor are they happy with a much more ornery GSA Administrator determined to build more lanes, booths, and other infrastructure at our POES.  That doesn’t bother me at all. 

But I can tell you what does bother me.  “Annie.”  It is just not good enough to keep talking about tomorrow, tomorrow, always tomorrow.   Some of you may remember my favorite words are yes and now.  So, I want to talk about change today, not tomorrow.  And I am tired of waiting for improvements to come to our POES tomorrow.  I want it today. 

In fact, at 2 p.m. today, I’ll be meeting with Congressman Reyes to discuss ways to move forward GSA’s efforts at the ports of entry.

And, naturally, it will not all be smooth sailing.  For example, I know many were disappointed that the FY08 budget that came back from Congress did not provide funding for Nogales—as was I, but that does not mean that we do nothing.  Instead, I have directed our Public Buildings Service to identify what we can do—now—with our own internal, though smaller, renovations budget-------to move the project further along until the larger funding is approved by Congress.  Teddy Roosevelt said:  “We must do what we can with what we have, wherever we are.” That, I think, must be, and is, my philosophy for the land border ports of entry.  I cannot allow lack of congressional funding to prevent these important projects from advancing.

And, at the same time, it’s clear: I’ll have to be a lot more ornery and a lot more outspoken to gain the funding and the full approval of Congress to support the building of more infrastructure at POES.

And so, I am here to tell you that you can expect GSA to push this issue with even greater urgency -- not tomorrow, but today.   We will build on the excellent start already made, and the focus now will be to identify, approve and begin construction on a number of projects, both large and small, at every single POE where traffic is stalled.

In the months to come, you’ll see GSA projects underway in Arizona (Mariposa, San Luis East and West), California (Calexico West, San Sedro), New Mexico (Columbus), and Texas (Del Rio, Valetta, Paso Del Norte, McAllen, Donna, Tortilla).

Second, GSA is going to be far more aggressive about getting more out of the money that Congress has already approved.

Third, the private sector and some entrepreneurial city officials have recently advanced some very innovative solutions for building new capacity with private funds.  Good ideas need to be encouraged, and I believe that we should encourage private investment.  Once we open our minds to all of the possibilities, it becomes clear that the great challenge is not the funding, but making sure it is all spent wisely.

To help get us started, next month, GSA will host a one-day conference in San Diego. We’re calling it: A Partnership for Success: GSA’s Land Ports of Entry Forum 2008.   I have already invited Maria Louisa and I hope she will bring a delegation from the BTA, ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. 

• Look at partnering for success:  How can sister cities improve commerce and security?   The emphasis here will be a panel comprised of mayors from sister cities on either side of the northern and southern borders who have worked together successfully, who will share lessons learned and best practices, with the goal of generating an action list.

• We’ll examine public-private partnerships:  How can the private sector help at the borders? Experts will share ways to leverage private investment.  And wow, wouldn’t it be great if we were able to announce new successful private public partnerships at Otway Mesa II and El Paso?

• We’ll cover planning for disaster:  How do border communities prepare to recover?   The special assistant to the president for national continuity will discuss his vision.

• And there will be a plenary session covering local and small business construction opportunities at the border where for the first time ever, GSA and roll out construction opportunities designed for local businesses that are best equipped to perform work at local POES. We’ll have folks there from the Small Business Administration to talk about construction loans and bonding, as well as folks from GSA to help businesses get the GSA contract vehicles that will make that construction work possible.

It’s been five years since President Bush’s call to improve security and speed up the free flow of legitimate trade and travelers at our borders. So my view is that we need to build what we can…where we can…as fast as we can! 

There’s something else, and I’ve spoken about it before.

When the terrorists attacked on 9/11, they targeted the World Trade Center in New York, among our most prominent symbols of trade and prosperity. Osama Bin Laden was very clear about his goal to provoke and bait us into making misguided decisions that would result in self-inflicted damage to our economy and free trade.  Long lines of frustrated travelers at our land ports translates to a victory for America’s enemies. We can do better.  We can strike a blow against Al-Qaeda by making sure our trade and travelers move safely and freely at all ports of entry without long delays.  And we can do it today.

In closing, I want you to understand my determination and commitment to fully implementing the president’s strategy.  The administration has made great progress on the security side; now it’s time to step up and make similar progress on the trade and travel side. It’s going to take toil and sweat to fully implement the president’s policy.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what you can expect from the men and women of GSA.  Not tomorrow…but today!!!