September 17, 2009
by Eileen Sullivan
WASHINGTON — It will cost taxpayers $6.5 billion over the next 20 years to maintain the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a government audit.
But as the Obama administration realizes the long-term costs of the border fence, it does not have a way to evaluate whether this investment has helped control illegal entries into the country, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Thursday.
The $6.5 billion price tag is in addition to the $2.4 billion that's been spent to build more than 600 miles of fence segments along the southwest border. As of May 14, there have been 3,363 breaches in the fence, which cost about $1,300 each to repair, GAO found.
"We can't empty the federal treasury to satisfy some bumper-sticker notion of border security," Rep. David Price, D-N.C. said in a statement. Price said comprehensive changes to the country's immigration laws is what will improve border security.
The fence is a Bush administration initiative that has faced several delays and cost increases.
The technological part of the government's plan to secure the border continues to be delayed, GAO said.
Until the entire technology piece is complete, it is impossible for Border Patrol to know if the security measures are working, GAO said.
Boeing Co. has the contract for the technology piece and has received about $400 million for work on the physical fence, company spokeswoman Jenna McMullin said.
On Thursday, Customs and Border Protection extended the contract option to continue to assign tasks to Boeing for another year, said Mark Borkowski, the government's director of the secure border initiative.
Borkowski said he understands the frustrations about the project's delays. But he said he's confident that Boeing and the government will find the right technology for the long stretches of the border.
Tim Peters, Boeing's vice president of global security, told lawmakers that the company has learned valuable lessons from its initial projects on the border. Peters said it's not "uncommon" to run into technological challenges in these sort of projects.
Depending on funding, the there would be fencing or technology along the whole southwestern border except for about 200 miles around Big Bend National Park by 2014, Homeland Security officials have said. But GAO said it's more likely to be completed in 2016.
On Thursday officials told Congress that the remaining 38 miles of physical fencing is held up because of legal issues related to obtaining land.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, called the fence a "serious challenge" that the Obama administration has inherited. In remarks prepared for a hearing Thursday, the Mississippi Democrat said the GAO's findings are troubling.