Sunday, June 20, 2010

Costly efforts to secure border not paying off

From the construction of the border fence to the deployment of unmanned aerial drones, federal initiatives have cost billions of dollars to secure the U.S.-Mexico border and have been mired in challenges and setbacks, public records show. Audits by U.S. Congress’ investigative arm, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), also reflect that numerous initiatives have been stymied and plagued by mismanagement, lack of coordination and no oversight. Meanwhile, the $1.6 billion virtual fence, initiated in 2006 and known as SBInet, covers 53 miles in the Yuma and Tucson sectors. But GAO reported that as of April, Border Patrol agents continued to rely on existing technology rather than SBInet. “According to my calculations, (the cost of the virtual fence) equals nearly $20 million per mile,” U. S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Mississippi, chairman of the U. S. House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement issued June 17, when a hearing was held on the initiative in Washington, D.C. The plan was to have SBInet in place throughout the 1,989-mile U.S.-Mexico border by 2009. The virtual fence is composed of a network of sensors, cameras, towers and radars that are supposed to detect and track movement on the border, and transmit the data to video terminals at command centers and agents’ vehicles to assist in identifying illegal activity. GAO found that sensors can’t differentiate between vehicles, humans and animals — although the ability had been a requirement of the system. The radar also couldn’t differentiate between humans and vehicles. But those in charge of the project decided to waive these and other significant requirements. “The system is now only required to achieve a 49 percent probability of identifying items of interest that cross the border,” GAO found...more

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