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News
UA missing out on homeland security research


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Ryan Scalise
Contributing Writer
By Ryan Scalise
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday September 26, 2003

One of the 13 stated themes emphasized in President Likins' strategic vision for reshaping the UA's academic and research future Focused Excellence is Southwestern borderland studies.

This is only appropriate because Tucson is in close proximity to Nogales, Mexico, which is Arizona's largest port of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border. Thus, the UA has a comparative advantage in researching border issues.

However, there does not seem to have been any action taken to improve border studies. Instead, the university has chosen to focus its research agenda and grant money on optics, biotechnology, information technology and environmental studies relating to water.

Border studies, and border security in particular, is essential and should receive greater priority on the UA research agenda, as it has become a great priority to Arizona's economic prosperity and to our nation's homeland security efforts.

Arizona's 377-mile long border and eight points of entry pose a momentous challenge to homeland security. Assuring vigilance, but nonrestrictive flow of commerce and protecting our borders from terrorists and weapons of mass destruction has positioned border security as a top national concern in the post-Sept. 11 era. Ensuring the smooth and uninhibited flow of trade across borders is essential to the economic survival of Arizona and to the nation at large.

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It is the same old story not enough grant money. However, this is not really a matter of lack of funds so much as one the misallocation of those funds.
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The Arizona Board of Regents has an initiative through the UA's Office of Economic Development called the Nogales CyberPort project, which deals with securing the border and facilitating increased trade flow.

Bruce Wright, assistant vice president for Economic Development and overseer of the CyberPort program, sums up the project as "identifying, testing and implementing new technology adding physical improvements and procedural changes at the Nogales Port of Entry."

Wright said, "Total U.S.-Mexico surface trade accounted for $200 billion in 2002, but the Nogales port of entry has lost one-quarter of its relative market share since 1995."

Simply stated, these figures mean that Arizona is losing its competitive advantage and we are losing money fast. Mr. Wright concludes that "significant improvements at the port of entry and throughout the whole trade-flow process are required to maintain Nogales as a port of choice to secure Arizona's position as primary gateway for U.S.-Mexico trade."

An increased trade flow across the Southwestern border may help Arizona get out of its current fiscal rut. That would also mean that instead of sending university programs to the chopping block as a matter of conserving and redirecting finances, the UA could rely more on state funds for academic programs and securing much-needed faculty.

It is important to note that Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano fully supports the CyberPort project and views border security and cross-border trade efficiency as the top priority for Arizona government, and is taking steps to procure federal research grants. Republican Sen. Jon Kyl has also realized that the CyberPort project is vital to homeland security and increased trade, and has asked for appropriations that are going through the legislative process on their way to Arizona.

The UA should jump all over these developments and become a major player in this research and development area. Several schools in New Mexico and Texas are researching and developing technology for border security along with Sandia National Labs, one of the most technically advanced labs in the world.

It is the same old story not enough grant money. However, this is not really a matter of a lack of funds so much as one of the misallocation of those funds. If President Likins were to realize that resources should be redirected to this pressing issue, the situation could be significantly improved.

More grant money should be given to this theme so that Arizona can realize greater revenues. The UA should become a major actor for border research and development. Not only do we have a comparative advantage geographically, we also have an advantage in management information systems, spectral analysis and optical recognition all technologies that are applicable to homeland security and equally relevant to projects like CyberPort.

President Likins needs to integrate all these strong points into border security efforts or another university will.

Ryan Scalise is a political science senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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