GAO: Border Security Technology Program ‘Has Not Produced Expected Results’

By Edwin Mora | August 6, 2010 | 3:41 PM EDT

A U.S. Border Patrol agent at the border in Nogales, Ariz., where the old border fence (back left) meets a 5-mile section of new border fence. (AP File Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

( - The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) technology program aimed at securing the border and reducing the number of undocumented immigrants is “in a constant state of flux” and “has not produced expected results,” according to a government audit.
“Among other things, our reports and recommendations point to an SBInet technology program in a constant state of flux, with delays in deployment that require the Border Patrol to continue relying on existing technology for securing the border and weaknesses in testing and acquisition that have resulted in a program that has not produced expected results,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed in a July 30 report on the Obama administration’s Border Security Fencing, Infrastructure and Technology (BSFIT) Fiscal Year 2010 Expenditure Plan.
According to the DHS’ Custom and Border Protection (CBP) agency, SBInet is a component of the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), which is “responsible for the development, installation, and integration of technology solutions” primarily focused on the southwest border, but it also includes initiatives to secure the northern border. 
SBI is a multi-billion dollar plan aimed at securing the border and reducing illegal immigration that was put in place in November 2005 under the Bush administration.  
CBP is charged with “the development and deployment of SBI technology” and tactical infrastructure (TI), which includes fences, roads, and lighting, the GAO explained.
In January, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano “ordered a department-wide assessment of the SBI program and, in March 2010, froze funding for efforts beyond [the Tucson, Ariz. border sector] until the assessment is completed, scheduled for October 2010,” the GAO pointed out.
Furthermore, “In March 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security announced that the department was redirecting the $50 million in funding received through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act originally allocated to SBInet Block 1 to procure tested and commercially available technologies, such as MSS [Mobile Surveillance System].”
The GAO explained that “SBInet Block 1 is a surveillance technology effort that consists of a system of sensor towers that are networked, including radar, cameras, sensors, and communications equipment.” SBInet Block 1 provides “CBP agents with border situational awareness.”
In regards to SBI’s infrastructure program, the GAO noted that there are delays in fence construction along the southwest border, adding that it made recommendations that an “impact analysis” is necessary.
The original CBP infrastructure plan was to have “a total of 670 miles of fencing, including 370 miles of single-layer pedestrian fencing and 300 miles of vehicle fencing, completed, under construction, or under contract by December 31, 2008,” according to the GAO.
However, it added that the goal was changed to 652 because of problems involving the movement and distribution of water in the area, among other things. The U.S.-Mexico border is approximately 2,000 miles long.
“According to BSFIT, as of October 2009, CBP had completed a total of about 641 of the 652 miles of fencing and planned to complete the remaining 11 miles by December 2010,” noted the GAO.
It continued, “However, meeting this schedule depends on several factors, including the resolution of pending litigation to acquire the necessary property rights from landowners who have not agreed to sell these rights to the federal government. In addition, according to the BSFIT expenditure plan, approximately 14 additional miles of pedestrian fence are expected to be built using fiscal year 2010 funds.”
The border security budget plan was submitted to Congress by Obama’s DHS on May 20, 2010.
According to the GAO, “The Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2010, required DHS to complete an expenditure plan that would address 11 conditions and that would be submitted to and approved by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees before the agency could obligate $75 million of the $800 million appropriated for CBP fencing, infrastructure, and technology.
“In addition, Conference, Senate, and House committee reports accompanying the act directed that the plan address seven items (referred to as committee reports’ directions in this briefing),” stated the GAO.
“In summary, the expenditure plan did not fully satisfy all of the legislative conditions and committee reports’ directions,” stated the GAO.
The GAO audit was conducted from November 2009 through June 2010.