Home » DHS Official Says Future of Virtual Border Fence Project is Bleak
The Homeland Security Department likely will cancel a program to install sensors and cameras to detect illegal immigrants entering the United States from Mexico, and possibly pursue projects that are tailored to specific areas along the border, the head of the Secure Border Initiative told Congress.
Mark Borkowski, executive director of SBInet at the Homeland Security Department, told a joint meeting of the House Subcommittee on Management, Investigations and Oversight, and the Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism that the original plan to deploy the program along the entire border is unlikely. SBInet is a network of sensors, cameras, radar and control towers that can detect individuals crossing into the United States from Mexico. It is the technology component of the department's overall Secure Border Initiative, which also includes fencing that will be erected along the U.S. southern and northwestern borders.
"Is that the right technology in the right places, or are there better mixes and matches? Can we come up with something that's a little more rational, that's tailored to each area of the border?" Borkowski said. "My expectation is that we would not end up with SBInet along the border. Already that doesn't look like a wise thing to do." SBInet has been troubled almost from the moment DHS awarded the initial $2.5 billion contract to Boeing Co. in September 2006. Delays, cost overruns and performance issues mounted until January 2010, when DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered an assessment of SBInet to determine if it should continue. Homeland Security is measuring the progress of the initial deployment of equipment to determine whether or not the department can expand the network along the entire U.S.-Mexican border, and if so, if it's worthwhile. DHS expects to have initial results of the assessment this month. But even without the completion of the study, Borkowski's comments on Thursday indicate the likely end of the project. "First, we need to become convinced that the program is even viable," Borkowski said. "Second, we need to become convinced that if it is, it's the right way to spend money. Even if it works, is it worth it?"
In March, Napolitano froze spending on the project until the assessment could be completed, and she reallocated $50 million of Recovery Act funding earmarked for SBInet's first phase in the Tucson and Ajo, Ariz., areas to technologies that have a better track record. DHS has bought remote video-surveillance systems, truck-mounted cameras and radar, thermal imaging devices, and cameras and laptops for pursuit vehicles, Borkowski said.
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