April 02, 2020

Border agency to get $3M boost to finish tasks

PORTLAND – The U.S. leader of the tiny agency responsible for clearing and marking the border between the United States and Canada has received a commitment from the State Department to try to bolster the agency’s budget.

Dennis Schornack, the U.S. commissioner of the International Boundary Commission, has complained for several years that the agency has fallen so far behind on basic maintenance that the border is becoming obscured by fast-growing vegetation.

The U.S. budget for the fiscal year that began this month is $1.3 million – a reduction from last year’s $1.4 million. Canada, meanwhile, provides $2.1 million.

After two days of meetings this week with congressional staffers, high-ranking Homeland Security officials and State Department representatives, Schornack learned that a $3 million supplement budget will be presented to Congress.

If it’s approved, the additional $3 million would more than triple the agency’s budget from the State Department, helping the U.S. to catch up with Canadian funding and letting U.S. crews get caught up on their work, Schornack said Friday.

The 5,525-mile border between the two countries consists of a 20-foot vista slashed through the woods. In the middle, markers and monuments denote the actual border, but the border has become obscured by brush and trees in some places.

Schornack said the brush could impede efforts to secure the northern border by hindering the effectiveness of Boeing Corp.’s efforts to create a “virtual fence” consisting of cameras, sensors and even unmanned airplanes.

The agency, consisting of two commissioners (one from each country), seven field engineers and a small support staff, is responsible for surveying and maintaining more than 8,000 monuments and reference points, as well as clearing the brush.

Schornack said that everyone has realized the agency’s plight but that no one has stepped forward to try to boost the budget until now.

He said defense and homeland security officials were surprised by how small his budget is compared to the overall $2.7 trillion federal budget.

They came up with a term for the tiny budget. “They referred to it as ‘budget dust,'” he said. “The term came up in several meetings.”

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