Secure Border Initiative:

Technology Deployment Delays Persist and the Impact of Border Fencing Has Not Been Assessed

GAO-09-1013T: Published: Sep 17, 2009. Publicly Released: Sep 17, 2009.

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This testimony discusses the implementation of the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Secure Border Initiative (SBI) program--a multiyear, multibillion dollar program aimed at securing U.S. borders and reducing illegal immigration. Securing the nation's borders from illegal entry of aliens and contraband, including terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, continues to be a major challenge. In November 2005, DHS announced the launch of SBI to help address this challenge. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) supports this initiative by providing agents and officers to patrol the borders, secure the ports of entry, and enforce immigration laws. In addition, CBP's SBI program is responsible for developing a comprehensive border protection system using technology, known as SBInet, and tactical infrastructure--fencing, roads, and lighting--along the southwest border to deter smugglers and aliens attempting illegal entry. Since fiscal year 2005, SBI has received funding amounting to over $3.7 billion. Approximately $1.1 billion has been allocated to SBInet and $2.4 billion to tactical infrastructure. SBInet surveillance technologies are to include sensors, cameras, and radars. The command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3I) technologies are to include software and hardware to produce a Common Operating Picture (COP)--a uniform presentation of activities within specific areas along the border. SBInet technology is to be initially deployed in two geographic areas --designated as Tucson-1 and Ajo-1--within the Tucson sector. In September 2006, CBP awarded a prime contract for SBInet development to the Boeing Company for 3 years, with three additional 1-year options. As of July 8, 2009, CBP had awarded 13 task orders to Boeing for a total amount of approximately $1.1 billion. In addition to deploying technology across the southwest border, DHS planned to deploy 370 miles of single-layer pedestrian fencing and 300 miles of vehicle fencing by December 31, 2008. Pedestrian fencing is designed to prevent people on foot from crossing the border and vehicle fencing consists of physical barriers meant to stop the entry of vehicles. In September 2008, DHS revised its goal, committing instead to having 661 miles either built, under construction, or under contract by December 31, 2008, but did not set a goal for the number of miles it planned to build by December 31, 2008. Although some tactical infrastructure exists in all the southwest border sectors, most of what has been built through the SBI program is located in the San Diego, Yuma, Tucson, El Paso, and Rio Grande Valley sectors. This testimony is based on a report we are publicly releasing today that is the fourth in a series of interim reports on SBI implementation. testimony will discuss the following key issues in our report: (1) the extent to which CBP has implemented the SBInet technology program and the impact of any delays that have occurred, and (2) the extent to which CBP has deployed the SBI tactical infrastructure program and assessed its results. Our full report also provides a status of SBI program office staffing and the progress the office reports in achieving its human capital goals.

SBInet technology capabilities have not yet been deployed and delays require the Border Patrol to rely on existing technology for securing the border, rather than using newer technology planned to overcome the existing technology's limitations. As a result of the delays, Border Patrol agents continue to use existing technology that has limitations, such as performance shortfalls and maintenance issues. For example, on the southwest border, the Border Patrol relies on existing equipment such as cameras mounted on towers that have intermittent problems, including signal loss. The Border Patrol has procured and delivered some new technology to fill gaps or augment existing equipment. However, incorporating SBInet technology as soon as it is operationally available should better position CBP to identify and implement operational changes needed for securing the border.

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