The Obama administration finally has pulled the plug on the ambitious “virtual” border fence that quickly turned out to be a big waste of money.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Congress on Friday that the SBInet project was being terminated, saying that a thorough review made it clear that it simply can’t meet its objective of using high technology to help law enforcement officials monitor our southern border. What began with a $67 million contract with Boeing Aerospace company has cost taxpayers almost $1 billion to cover just 53 miles of the nearly 2,000-mile border, and it didn’t do it well.
The idea was to cover the border area with high-tech motion and heat sensors that could alert Border Patrol and other agents of border encroachments. At the time it was announced, we questioned how the sensors would be able to discern between undocumented immigrants and the wildlife that populate the Arizona desert and Texas brushland. It now appears that the system was even worse than feared. Reportedly, bushes rustling in the wind were enough to set off the alarms. Agents who went to investigate the “hits” usually found nothing; either the alarm was false, or by the time they got to the place where the alarm went off, any people in the area had moved on to someplace else.
Besides the radar system that couldn’t tell the difference between people and plants, the cameras and satellite positioning systems were too slow to effectively track any moving objects.
The Government Accountability Office has long deemed the project ineffective and wasteful.
According to The Associated Press, Boeing had defended itself by saying that it was pressured to bring the system online before it was ready.
Perhaps that explains the biggest fault with this whole endeavor. Government officials didn’t hesitate to pump tons of taxpayers’ money into a system that promised great things, but didn’t even exist.
Bureaucrats have little incentive to watch their pennies — after all, the money they’re spending isn’t theirs; it’s yours and ours. If they did care about being frugal with our money, as they should, they wouldn’t use it to invest it on experiments that might or might not work. Projects with the immediacy they gave to border security should have utilized existing technology, where the capabilities, reliability and cost already were known.
Worst of all this is the fact that the calls for total border coverage stem from arch conservatives’ anti-Anglo sentiment that arose, or at least became more prominent, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks more than nine years ago.
Our national security is an important issue. Precisely for this reason we need policies that are effective, efficient, and most importantly reasonable. It makes little sense dumping so much of our attention and tax money making our southern border impermeable when the real threat comes from homegrown radicals like Tim McVeigh and John Allen Muhammad or from well-funded religious fundamentalists. Certainly, border protection is a must, but we need to focus more on the real threat.