DHS freezes funds for U.S.-Mexico border security system

Published 18 March 2010

In 2006 Boeing won the contract for the ambitious Secure Border Initiative Net (SBINet) project — a system of cameras, radar, and other sensors aiming to detect illegal immigrants as they cross the U.S.-Mexico border; after countless technical glitches and many delays, DHS freezes funding for the project to allow it too assess how to deal with Boeing’s failures and decide on future steps

The ambitious but troubles electronic surveillance system aiming to stop illegal immigrants from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border may have to be changed after DHS secretary Janet Napolitano stopped the program’s funding. “Not only do we have an obligation to secure our borders, we have a responsibility to do so in the most cost-effective way possible,” Napolitano said in a statement yesterday.

BusinessWeek’s Jeff Bliss writes that DHS froze all funding for the Secure Border Initiative Net (SBINet) except what is needed to finish the project along sections of the Arizona border until an assessment Napolitano ordered in January is completed.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. is the major contractor for the so-called SBINet, which is a system of cameras, radar, and other sensors. Over the years, the program has been dogged by technical glitches and missed deadlines.

In 2006 Boeing won the contract for the program, an initiative by then-President George W. Bush to respond to Republican-led efforts to curtail illegal immigration. Bliss writes that in the month before getting the contract, Boeing officials said they could have the sensors and radar installed along the border in less than three years.

The Obama administration will divert $50 million intended for the system “to other tested, commercially available security technology,” Napolitano said.

Lawmakers agreed changes in the program needed to be made. “After spending over $1 billion of taxpayers’ dollars on a failed system of sensors and cameras along the southwest border, known as SBINet, I am pleased that Secretary Napolitano has decided to instead turn to commercially available technology.” Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said in a statement.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) called the program “a grave and expensive disappointment.” “We are tired of listening to stories about faulty cameras, poor tower stability and overly sensitive sensors which have led to failed testing,” said Thompson in a statement.

The border subcommittee of Thompson’s panel will hold a hearing on SBInet on 18 March.