By Rafael Bernal
March 8, 2017
Senate Democrats questioned the wisdom of spending money on a border wall at a Wednesday hearing on President Trump's nominee for deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Elaine Duke told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel that DHS officials are preparing a cost-benefit analysis of a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Duke, who held positions at DHS under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, answered two rounds of questions from the committee on issues ranging from the border wall to heroin trafficking and U.S. relations with Latin America.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) focused on major-project spending, questioning Duke about the need to perform cost-benefit analyses on large expenditures before ordering them.
"You're aware, of course, that there has been no cost-benefit analysis performed on this wall," McCaskill asked.
"Yes, and I understand that [Customs and Border Protection] has been preparing that," Duke replied. The wall was Trump's foremost campaign pledge, and Reuters estimates it will cost $21.6 billion to construct. The Department of Homeland Security has only found $20 million in existing funds to put toward construction, Reuters added.
Committee Democrats used the hearing to criticize potential cuts to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and other anti-terrorism measures to fund the border wall and hiring of 10,000 new immigration agents, as ordered by Trump's executive orders.
"Do you support cutting aviation security to pay for the president's border wall?" asked Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).
Duke acknowledged the dangers posed by cutting aviation security and said she would "look at the budget very carefully if confirmed."
Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.), who said he intends to support Duke, focused on a $20 million reprogramming request for a pilot program on the effectiveness of a wall.
"I think that we should test things before we deploy them," Duke said. "We have to test not only are they effective in securing the border but are they sustainable."
Duke said she was open to using technology, rather than a physical barrier as Trump has proposed, if analysis pointed to alternate options as the best way to secure borders.
"We should use the results of this pilot and the other information Customs and Border Protection has in their program," said Duke, and "take all that and determine what is the right combination for the complete security of the southwest border."
The deputy secretary of Homeland Security is the chief operating officer in charge of DHS. In the absence of the secretary, the deputy secretary would take the position of acting secretary.
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