THREE YEARS AND $1 BILLION LATER, "VIRTUAL FENCE" AT U.S.-MEXICAN BORDER STILL DOESN'T WORK SAYS THE GAO OFFICIAL FOR HOMELAND SECURITY ISSUES -- "60 MINUTES"
Three years and a billion dollars later, the "virtual fence" that is eventually supposed to secure America's entire 2,000-mile border with Mexico still doesn't work as it should, says the director of Homeland Security issues for the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The GAO's Richard Stana tells Steve Kroft that the project's main contractor, Boeing, has failed to live up to promises it made when it originally received the contract. Kroft's report will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES, Sunday, Jan. 10 (7:00-8:00PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
"Here we are three years and hundreds of millions of dollars since SBI was first conceived of and where are we? We're still waiting for something that works," says Stana of the much vaunted Secure Border Initiative Network or SBInet project. "When Boeing first got the contract back in 2006, they made promises that they would be able to apprehend, at least detect and apprehend, 95 percent, plus or minus five percent, of all the incursions," he tells Kroft.
But there have been delays and problems with the system of cameras and radar mounted so far on strategically placed towers along a small stretch - about one percent - of the border. The system is meant to greatly enhance the effectiveness of Border Patrol agents but when it was first deployed, it sometimes did the opposite. Says Stana, "The radar, they were very susceptible to weather...if it was raining, it would train on raindrops. If the wind blew mesquite leaves on a bush, it would train on that as an activity...you don't want agents out looking for bushes and raindrops."
A demonstration of the system for 60 MINUTES on a clear day indicated it was somewhat effective, but it has its limits says Stana. "The issue is, in what weather does it work? And how reliable is it?"
One of the main reasons for the problems and delays was Boeing and the Department of Homeland Security's initial failure to speak to Border Patrol agents about their needs and the conditions under which they operate. Stana says there was too much haste at the onset. "They wanted to go full-steam ahead with this virtual fence back in '05, '06, for whatever reason. So the kinds of things you would expect to see in a large multi-billion-dollar program, you didn't see right away," he tells Kroft.
So far, SBInet covers roughly 28 miles of the Arizona-Mexico border and is in the process of being replaced with new equipment originally due this month in response to the failures and limitations of the initial system. Boeing was supposed to hand over the first 23-mile section of the new system to the Border Patrol this month, but in the latest delay, it will not be ready for at least three months. The old, flawed system, now considered a "prototype," must do until the new one is implemented.
"Some people have called it a do-over," says Mark Borkowski, the executive director of SBI, who was brought in about a year ago to fix the program. He says the initial system was oversold. "We told Congress, �It's going to work great...it's going to lock down the border for you.' Shame on us."