The Virtual Fence--Failed Components of a Dead Policy--What a Good Idea
'Virtual Fence' Along Border To Be Delayed U.S. Retooling High-Tech Barrier After 28-Mile Pilot Project Fails
By Spencer S. Hsu Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, February 28, 2008; A01
The Bush administration has scaled back plans to quickly build a "virtual fence" along the U.S.-Mexico border, delaying completion of the first phase of the project by at least three years and shifting away from a network of tower-mounted sensors and surveillance gear, federal officials said yesterday.
Technical problems discovered in a 28-mile pilot project south of Tucson prompted the change in plans, Department of Homeland Security officials and congressional auditors told a House subcommittee.
Though the department took over that initial stretch Friday from Boeing, authorities confirmed that Project 28, the initial deployment of the Secure Border Initiative network, did not work as planned or meet the needs of the U.S. Border Patrol.
The announcement marked a major setback for what President Bush in May 2006 called "the most technologically advanced border security initiative in American history." The virtual fence was to be a key component of his proposed overhaul of U.S. immigration policies, which died last year in the Senate.
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.
"Both expected and unplanned difficulties"--a metaphor for this presidency.
But the software thing . . . let me try to understand that. The entire project cost $21 million, with commercial software. Now, Boeing got three times that just to install military-style, battle management software. Don't we already own that? Doesn't the Pentagon already have that on the shelf, bought at (no doubt) huge prices, with (no doubt) enormous cost overruns? Has anyone looked in the broom-closet? If 28 miles worth can be found back there between the mops and squeegees, Boeing wouldn't have to squeegee a double-billing out of the DHS. Then they could just concentrate on finding a way to bill $65 mil on programmers. Surely any firm that can swindle the Air Force into leasing tanker aircraft for more money than it would cost to buy them--go to jail for the swindle--and then come back and re-sell the swindling deal to the Pentagon, can find a way to cook the books on software. It's comforting to know that DHS, in its never-failing gullibility, accepted the 28 miles that doesn't work. Signing off, Mike Chertoff has found, is far easier than actually making someone accountable. But if Boeing needs help in further gulling, Donnie Rumsfeld isn't employed at the moment. In between sweat-sessions to his lawyers, he might be able to take time off to instruct Boeing on the nuances between known unknowables and unknown unknowables. But there's only 250 shopping-days days left in the Bush administration to do it.