Saturday, January 15, 2011

Homeland Security chairman wants plan after White House scraps [virtual] border fence

The Hill
January 15, 2011
by Jordy Yager

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is calling on the White House to present Congress with a detailed timeline for its plan to secure the U.S.-Mexico border following its move to scrap a flawed $1 billion border fence initiative.

In the wake of the administration's announcement to discontinue the SBInet program, Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) said the Department of Homeland Security should speed up its plan to establish a protected border.

The 4-year old program, started under President George W. Bush, has only established 53 miles worth of fencing along the border, and has been plagued by delays. Last year, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered a complete assessment of the SBInet program.

“The Obama Administration must promptly present the people of this country with a comprehensive plan to secure our borders, incorporating the necessary staffing, fencing, and technology,” said King in a statement. “I expect the Administration, in its upcoming 2012 budget proposal, to put forward such a plan, including timelines and metrics.”

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), also heralded the program’s ending, saying that it has been “a grave and expensive disappointment since its inception.”

“Our Committee has held 11 hearings on the project, commissioned 5 critical GAO reports, all while the program cost taxpayers nearly $1 billion for only 53 miles of coverage,” said Thompson.

“The sheer size and variations of our borders show us a one-stop solution has never been best. I applaud them for taking this critical step toward using a more tailored technologically-based approach to securing our Nation’s borders.”

Napolitano announced the discontinuation of the program on Friday. She outlined a new plan that will replace SBInet with unmanned aerial vehicles, thermal imaging cameras, and a variety of other surveillance tools.

Fran Townsend, who was a homeland security adviser for President George W. Bush, said Friday that Congress should have established an office to oversee the project when it approved it years ago.

“There's plenty of blame to go around on all sides,” Townsend said on CNN with Anderson Cooper. “First of all, this was a program that came in sort of suddenly and unexpectedly on the part of the executive branch.”

“President Bush was pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, and Congress insisted on a greater enforcement package, which included this fence. So it came at the last minute. It was put on the bill. The president signed the bill. So there was not an office set up to do the oversight.”

It wasn't until several years ago that an office was set up to oversee the project.

Townsend said she hoped some of the technology being used by the military in Afghanistan and Iraq would be employed by DHS to “supplement and to support the people on the ground.”

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said that the “department’s decision to use technology based on the particular security needs of each segment of the border is a far wiser approach, and I hope it will be more cost effective.”

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