As Congress works to complete appropriations to fund the federal government for the rest of fiscal year 2022, a small group of Democratic senators is urging their leadership and appropriations chairs to increase funding for technology used to detect illegal drugs, particularly fentanyl, at border checkpoints.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is tasked with targeting and detecting illegal drugs crossing U.S. borders, including synthetic opioids and their precursors,” Sens. Gary Peters (Mich.), Tom Carper (Del.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Jacky Rosen (Nev.), and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) wrote in their Feb. 25 letter. “Non-intrusive inspection (NII) systems have been a force multiplier in that effort, enabling CBP to screen or examine an increasing portion of the stream of commercial and passenger traffic, while still facilitating the flow of legitimate trade, cargo, and passengers. In 2019, Congress instructed CBP to come up with a plan to scan 100 percent of arriving vehicles within six years. CBP’s FY21 report on this plan makes it clear that to make progress toward this benchmark, Congress must fund more large-scale NII systems.”

The letter was sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Department of Homeland Security.

In the past three to four years, Congress has appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars for NII equipment aimed at helping CBP get closer to its 100 percent scanning goal. In 2021, the agency awarded multiple contracts to Astrophysics, Leidos [LDOS], OSI Systems [OSIS], and Britain’s Smiths Detection worth up to $870 million combined to provide NII systems for scanning trucks and passenger vehicles for threats, drugs and contraband as they enter the U.S.

As of late 2021, CBP was using large-scale NII systems to scan less than 2 percent of passenger vehicles and 15 percent of commercial vehicles crossing the southwest border. Those number are expected to increase to 40 and 72 percent, respectively, by FY ’23 with the new contracts.

The senators are also seeking to boost resources for the Homeland Security Investigation’s (HSI) component of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to better cope with the increase in investigations that result from more drugs intercepted by NII machines.

“HSI is responsible for investigating and going after the transnational criminal organizations trafficking drugs into the country, which is critical to curbing supply,” they said. The senators added that “This is an urgent priority and our funding should reflect our commitment to taking a bold approach to reducing overdoses and saving lives.”