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The leader of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency said the agency does not have enough technology or employees to secure the northern border. But during a congressional hearing, he supported President Bush's proposed budget, saying it will address some concerns.

Commissioner Robert Bonner's comments came during a Senate congressional hearing today. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) pressed Bonner on whether the northern border has enough agents to patrol the 4,000 mile stretch with Canada. About 1,000 agents now patrol that border, a significant increase from only 360 agents before Sept. 11, 2001.

Although Bush signed legislation last December that requires the hiring of an additional 2,000 border agents, only about 10 percent of that goal has been budgeted.

Leahy, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee's Homeland Security Subcommittee, said those new hires were earmarked for the southern border. He asked Bonner if there were enough agents to patrol the northern border. Bonner said his agency didn't have enough agents or technology, adding, however, that the budget includes money for deploying sensor technology and unmanned aerial vehicles. He said he didn't believe that all new agents were earmarked for the southern border.

"We need to do a smarter and better job," he added.

"We should have this discussion in greater detail because I'm not happy," Leahy said before he had to leave for a Senate vote.

In his opening statement, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) also criticized what he said was the administration's lack of funds for border security. He said former DHS Deputy Secretary James Loy recently cited concerns that al Qaeda agents might be able to illegally enter the country through the southern border.

"Despite this testimony, there is virtually no funding in the budget to increase our border security," he said.

CBP's fiscal 2006 proposed spending plan totals $6.7 billion, including $1.1 billion from user fees. The proposal is an increase of $304 million from the appropriation for fiscal 2005. The major technology highlights planned for next year include:

$125 million for continued deployment of weapons of mass destruction detection technology at ports of entry.

$19.8 million for video and video surveillance and intrusion technology along U.S. borders through the Border Patrol's America's Shield Initiative program.

$5.4 million to improve cargo and passenger screening systems.

$3.2 million representing CBP's contribution toward development of the classified Homeland Security Data Network communications backbone.

$3 million for operation of the Automated Biometric Identification System/Integrated Automated Fingerprint System.

During the hearing, Bonner said more radiation portal monitors will be deployed in the nation's ports of entry. So far, more than 200 have been deployed along the northern border and a significant number along the Mexican border. Deployment has also started at seaports.

He said a combination of technologies, including X-ray machines, isotope identifiers and personal radiation equipment, are used to detect radiation with a high level of confidence. They resolved 10,000 radiation hits, he explained, adding they learned the radiation was either naturally occurring or consistent with the shipment of goods.

NEXT STORY: VA learns tech lessons

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