Jim Kouri
Border "virtual fence" project a costly failure
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By Jim Kouri
November 9, 2010

During his visit on Saturday to Mumbai, India, President Barack Obama spoke of his support for the Mexican government in its battle against that country's organized crime after one of Mexico's most wanted drug lords was killed during a gun battle with Mexican federal troops.

The President's remarks followed a fierce gun battle in the border city of Matamoros that left drug kingpin Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, also known as "Tony the Storm," dead on Friday. In addition, several Mexican soldiers and a news reporter covering the deadly conflict were also mortally wounded.

Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security's latest failure to protect the United State, is a costly program to place crucial electronic surveillance systems along the U.S.-Mexico border that is years behind schedule. The security project is grossly over budget because Secretary Janet Napolitano's agency hasn't adequately managed the contractor doing the work, according to a Washington, DC watchdog group.

As a result, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars will be wasted and the porous southern border will continue to be vulnerable despite the Obama Administration's assurances that it's as secure as it's ever been. So far the troubled project, known as Secure Border Initiative Network, has cost the government $672 million although it's nowhere near completion, according to Judicial Watch, a public-interest group that investigates political corruption.

After years of debates, congressional votes, government studies and political posturing by lawmakers, the so-called "virtual fence" continues to cause more problems than it solves, according to testimony at a session of the House Homeland Security Committee.

In a compromise that met with disappointment by those who advocate tighter border security, instead of walls or chain link fencing, the U.S. Border Patrol and Homeland Security Department created the concept of virtual fence security that includes surveillance cameras, motion or heat sensing detectors, radar, and supposed state-of-the-art control towers designed to detect and prevent illegal immigration and drug smuggling into the United States.

According to a report obtained by the National Association of Chiefs of Police, the security contractor — Boeing Co. — is installing the hi-tech physical security system. The original plan called for a completion date by December 2009 at a cost of $1.1 billion for a virtual fence. According to the report obtained by NACOP, Boeing requested that completion date to be amended by seven years.

Physical security experts told this writer it should surprise no one that a relatively simple project would become complicated and unmanageable given that fact that most of the decision-makers probably have no law enforcement, security or engineering background.

The Obama initiative aims to enhance border security by designing technological tools that enable Border Patrol agents to detect and respond to incursions along unmanned stretches of the 2,000-mile Mexican border. This includes installing unattended ground sensors, radars and cameras. The so-called virtual fence was supposed to be completed by 2011, but Homeland Security officials recently pushed the date up to 2014, well after Obama's 2012 reelection campaign.

That's because the agency has failed to properly oversee the project's prime contractor, resulting in costly rework, numerous delays and lots of extra money. In fact Homeland Security officials stood by as the contractor provided information that was "replete with unexplained anomalies, thus rendering the data unfit for effective contractor management and oversight," congressional investigators found.

The initiative to erect barriers — both electronic and physical — along the U.S. Mexico border has been plagued with a multitude of problems since it was implemented under the George W. Bush Administration. After funding issues got largely settled, some border mayors in Texas blocked the feds from conducting fence work on city property, a large Indian tribe (Tohono O'odham) in Arizona refused to allow a fence to be erected along a vulnerable stretch of border and the so-called virtual fence project has been delayed several times, according to Judicial Watch officials.

Last year a separate GAO report revealed that the physical fence is costing U.S. taxpayers an average of nearly $4 million per mile. The per mile costs vary considerably depending on the type of fencing, topography, materials, labor costs and the price of land acquisition, but investigators determined that serious cost overruns have led to the exorbitant average figure.

© Jim Kouri

 

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Jim Kouri

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police... (more)

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