The nation’s infrastructure may be crumbling, but U.S. taxpayers can be thankful that the Department of Homeland Security paid top dollar for a 52-mile electronic fence to keep illegal immigrants on the right side of the Mexican border, to the tune of $800 million, or roughly $15 million per mile.


The problem:  it might not even work.

That’s the most recent assessment of the so-called SBInet or Secure Border Initiative by federal technology expert Randolph Hite, who testified before a House of Representatives subcommittee Thursday.

The string of surveillance cameras, unattended ground sensors, and guarded towers heavily touted by the Bush Administration was supposed to usher in a future of border security.

But the much-scaled-down project has not met lowered expectations and has been plagued by cost overruns, Hite said.

“Let me emphasize our long-held position that SBInet is a risky program,” Hite said according to a written statement released after the hearing.

“DHS has yet to identify expected quantifiable or qualitative benefits from this block,” Hite said of the project’s current phase.

The project was billed as the technological answer to the nation’s border security needs by former President George W. Bush in a May 2006 national radio address.

“We are launching the most technologically advanced border security initiative in American history. We will construct high-tech fences in urban corridors, and build new patrol roads and barriers in rural areas. America has the best technology in the world, and we will ensure that the Border Patrol has the technology they need to do their job and secure our border."

But cost delays and poor planning have prompted Homeland Security to halt construction on the project which now covers a 53-mile stretch of land along the Arizona border, far short of planned 2,000-mile electronic net running from Arizona to Texas in 2006.

Worse yet, Hite said that DHS has lowered performance expectations so that the system must detect less than half of anything that crosses the net.

“The performance measures were relaxed, to the point that system performance is now deemed acceptable if it identifies less than 50 percent of items of interest that cross the border.”

A report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in March found that 70 percent of the tests conducted on the fence were skewed to show better results.

The miscues and diminishing returns are a far cry from former DHS Chief and Bush cabinet member Michael Chertoff’s promises when the plan was first announced in 2006.

“We want to get ‘high-tech’ in the very best of the 21st century, but we're not interested in performing science experiments on the border. What we want to do is use tools that have been proven in other contexts to have the ability to perform and to have the durability,” Chertoff told the website Homeland Security and Insight Analysis in 2006.

Two years later in 2008, when the project began to fall behind schedule, Chertoff brushed aside criticism that the project would not be completed for several years.

"I have read in the newspapers that there is a three-year delay and for the life of me I cannot figure out where that comes from," Cheftoff told GovernmentExecutive.com in March 2008.
"There's no doubt that the process of working out some of the kinks delayed this by five to six years, but to say it's three years, I don't know where that comes from."

Executives representing Boeing, the project’s primary contractor, disagreed with assessments that the fence was over budget, putting its cost at $2.8 million per mile, according to the Associated Press.

Unmet expectations and the bleak assessments for the project’s future were met with anger by House members.

"We are guardians of the taxpayers' money and someone said yes to this: we said yes to this and it's not what was originally sold," said Congressman Christopher Carney, according to the AP.”