Cost overruns, missed deadlines and technical problems are the likely causes of the Obama administration’s decision to halt work on a high-tech “virtual” border fence that, if completed, would have covered vast stretches of the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, according to published reports.
The virtual fence is a 53-mile demonstration project located at only two sites in Arizona, near Tucson and Ajo that cost nearly $1 billion. The “invisible fence” project was originally to be completed in 2011, but the completion date was pushed back to 2014. It was designed to evaluate whether a network of state-of-the-art remote cameras and ground sensors could help U.S. Border Patrol agents intercept undocumented immigrants, drug smugglers or potential terrorists crossing the border into the United States from Mexico.
The 53 miles of high-tech surveillance equipment along the border at the two locations in Arizona was designed to augment nearly 700 miles of pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers built by the Bush administration and finished by the Obama administration along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. If successful, the goal of the project was to create a high-tech virtual border fence along the nearly 1,969 mile Mexican border. The target date for completion of the entire invisible fence was 2017 at an estimated cost of $7 billion.
However, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, has reported that the project has been afflicted with management problems and that Boeing had not provided accurate updates on progress and that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had provided inadequate oversight of Boeing, leading to “costly rework” efforts on the project.
In addition to cost overruns, missed deadlines and an inability of the technology to detect intruders as promised, the project also suffered from disputes between Boeing Co., the contractor, and the government, as well as Capitol Hill infighting.
DHS is expected to announce the cancellation of the project as the end of contract—which is set to expire Nov. 21—approaches, according to the Huston Chronicle. There have also been a series of internal DHS decisions made by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona, in recent weeks that shifted the year-to-year contract with the prime contractor, to a month-to-month contract that telegraphed the department’s decision to end the invisible fence program.
The Bush administration and Congress initially authorized the new border security measures in 2005 to set the political stage for bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform that would include a proposed pathway to U.S. citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. But disputes erupted over the tradeoffs required for any immigration overhaul, halting the deal in Congress, but leaving the security projects underway along the border.