June 17, 2010
by Suzanne Gamboa
WASHINGTON — Taxpayers have shelled out at least $15.1 million per mile for 53 miles of "virtual fence" built to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, more than 12 times the original estimate.
The federal government set aside $833 million for the fence of cameras, sensors and other barriers in 2007, and the vast majority of that money, at least $800 million, has been spent on a sliver, in Arizona, of the nearly 2,000-mile southern border. About $20.9 million has been used on the northern border.
Rep. Chris Carney, D-Pa., chairman of a House Homeland Security subcommittee, said the money was supposed to buy virtual fence for 655 miles of border in Arizona, New Mexico and a slice of Texas, at a cost of about $1.2 million per mile.
"We are guardians of the taxpayers' money and someone said yes to this, we said yes to this and it's not what was originally sold," Carney said.
The totals come from the House Homeland Security Committee, which got them from the Homeland Security Department. Customs and Border Protection confirmed the figures.
The fence, developed as part of a border security plan under President George W. Bush, was supposed to monitor most of the southern border with Mexico by 2011. Now, the 53 miles in Arizona is expected to be done by the end of the year.
Additionally, the expected capabilities of the virtual fence have shrunk, said Randolph Hite, a Government Accountability Office official.
"It's hard to redirect an iceberg once it's started moving in one direction, and that's what we are facing," Hite said.
The Homeland Security Department has suspended the project while it decides what to do next. Several officials acknowledged some good has come from the project, but they questioned the cost for those capabilities.
Carney urged the department to "find other means to secure the border in a timely and effective manner."
Roger Krone, an executive with virtual fence contractor Boeing, disagreed with portrayals of the spending. He said only $155 million was spent for the deployment of technology to monitor 55 miles of the Arizona border, a rate of $2.8 million a mile.
Krone said of the $828 million spent on the fence, $484 million was for nonrecurring costs, on design, development, supplier and program management and software design and development.
Mark Borkowski, Customs and Border Protections executive director of the Secure Border Initiative, said it's unknown whether the technology will be used to secure other parts of the border.
"The question is, is that really the right technology ... or can we come up with something that's a little bit more rational, that is tailored to each area of the border," Borkowski said.