Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano during Senate hearing last May.

Department Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano provided more insight Wednesday into what the government's new border security metrics will look like.

During a hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Napolitano said that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is creating an index to gauge progress:

"CBP is developing, and is consulting with independent, third party experts and stakeholders, on a new comprehensive index that will more holistically represent what is happening at the border and allow us to measure progress," she wrote in her written testimony.

As I wrote about in this April 17 story, what 'border security' means has long been nebulous, leaving leaders such as Napolitano open to criticism and preventing them from being able to back up their claims that the border is more secure than ever.

Napolitano further drove home what I reported in that story – that the term, "operational control," is no longer being used to measure border security.

"Operational control is an archaic term," Napolitano was quoted as saying in this Homeland Security Today story. "It is a limited term of art. It makes for a sound bite, but it doesn't actually reflect the reality of what is happening at the border."

The new index will assign a numeric value to each of the Border Patrol's Sectors to measure how secure it is, Homeland Security Today reported. In her written testimony, Napolitano said a more "comprehensive, empirical" way is necessary to gauge progress. 

"That is why CBP is creating a new comprehensive index drawing on data gathered both from their own operations as well as from third parties," she wrote.

The index will include traditional measures such as apprehensions and drug and cash seizures, state and local crime statistics on border-related criminal activity, and overall crime index reporting, she wrote. But it will also include indicators of quality of life in the border region, she said.

"This may include calls from hospitals to report suspected illegal aliens, traffic accidents involving illegal aliens or narcotics smugglers, rates of vehicle theft and numbers of abandoned vehicles, impacts on property values, and other measures of economic activity and environmental impacts," she wrote in the testimony.

The goal, she wrote, is to make the metrics more reliable:

"Defining success at the border is critical to how we move forward, and how we define success must follow a few guidelines: it must be based on reliable, validated numbers and processes, tell a complete and transparent statistical story, and draw heavily upon the values and priorities of border communities. The approach currently underway is designed to meet all of these criteria," she wrote.

Napolitano's testimony didn't include a timeline for the new metrics but CBP officials told me in mid-April that officials plan to test the new measures in fiscal 2012, which begins on Oct. 1, 2011.


Wednesday's hearing also included a spirited exchange between Napolitano and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, according to this ABC News story.