Virtual Fence Virtually Dead


Even the federal government can only spend so much on a project that's never worked. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that after three and a half years and $1.4 billion, she is freezing funding for the virtual border fence in Arizona. From an NPR post-mortem:

Homeland Security hired The Boeing Co. 3 1/2 years ago to build a string of towers along the 2,000-mile border. The towers were to integrate off-the-shelf products—cameras, radar, connections to ground sensors—so that Border Patrol agents could see who and what was coming across in real time….

Boeing built a 28-mile test section in the Southern Arizona desert. It didn't work. The company regrouped, redesigned and redeployed one set of towers near the first set. It is building another section right now. The entire border was supposed to be covered a year ago, but after three years—and $1.4 billion—the system is still full of bugs.

"Well, it sort of works," [Government Accountability Office (GAO) staffer Rich] Stana said.

A GAO report due out tomorrow outlines the failures of the effort, and alleges that some of the tests of the virtual fence were rigged to guarantee success, according to NPR. A Boeing executive is scheduled to testify before the House Committee on Homeland Security tomorrow as well.

NPR notes, however, that despite the freeze, the project is not completely dead. Homeland Security plans a full review of the project before pulling the plug completely.

For Reason's look at comprehensive immigration reform, check out the August/September 2006 issue, or just read more from the Reason archive on illegal immigration.