NEWS

Virtual Fence Won't Be Operational for 3 Years

By Matthew Harwood

The Washington Post reports that the Bush Administration's project to erect a virtual fence along parts of the U.S. border with Mexico has been delayed, despite the Department of Homeland Security's approval last Friday of the problem-riddled program.

The decision to delay the virtual fence's implementation, known as Project 28, came after government auditors discovered additional flaws in the prototype system designed by Boeing and deployed around the 28-mile border region south of the Tuscon, Arizona. As Reuters reports, technical difficulties with the virtual fence had already made Boeing miss its original June 2007 deadline.

According to the Post, the problems are myriad:

Investigators for the Government Accountability Office had earlier warned that the effort was beset by both expected and unplanned difficulties. But yesterday, they disclosed new troubles that will require a redesign and said the first phase will not be completed until near the end of the next president's first term.

Those problems included Boeing's use of inappropriate commercial software, designed for use by police dispatchers, to integrate data related to illicit border-crossings. Boeing has already been paid $20.6 million for the pilot project, and in December, the DHS gave the firm another $65 million to replace the software with military-style, battle management software.

Tthe first phase of the virtual fence's deployment was scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. Now, DHS officials say the virtual fencing in Tucson, Arizona; Yuma, Arizona; and El Paso, Texas, equaling about 100 miles,  will not be functional until at least 2011.

Technology originally central to the project, such as mobile radar/sensor towers, has been dropped, the article reports, in favor of "[m]ore traditional ground-based radar and airborne surveillance drones," according to Business Week.

Last Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff gave the greenlight to Project 28 and boasted of its effectiveness. In a blogpost on the DHS Web site this past Tuesday, Chertoff asserted:

I’ve seen this system work with my own eyes, and I’ve talked with the Border Patrol Agents who are using it. They assure me that it adds value. That’s what matters to me, and it’s a fact that cannot be denied.

Despite the delay, Richard M. Stana, director of homeland security and justice issues for the GAO, told Congress yesterday that:

... while Project 28 is not an optimal system to support [Customs and Border Patrol] operations, it has provided them with greater technological capabilities—such as improved cameras and radars—than the legacy equipment that preceded Project 28.

Boeing officials told the Post that Project 28 has helped DHS catch 2,000 illegal immigrants since September, despite its flaws. DHS maintains the project has not been a waste as they'll "be using the same idea, the same concept, and some of the same technology" to ensure virtual fencing is fully operational in border areas someday, according to Business Week.

The Post argues the virtual fence's delay is a "major setback" for the Bush Administration, which touted the high-tech solution as a central part of its Secure Border Initiative to reduce illegal immigration.

 

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