DHS freezes spending on virtual fence project

Napolitano also says $50 million in stimulus cash will be spent in other ways

Citing missed deadlines and cost overruns, the Homeland Security Department announced today it would freeze spending on a program to build a virtual fence along the U.S. southwestern border until the department completes a review.

DHS also announced it would redeploy $50 million in stimulus money that had been allocated for the first block of the SBInet virtual fence program, which aims to use a mix of information technology to secure the United States' border with Mexico.

The moves come after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered a reassessment of the program in January. That review is ongoing.

Napolitano said in a statement that the $50 million would instead be spent on “other tested, commercially available security technology along the Southwest border, including mobile surveillance, thermal imaging devices, ultra-light detection, backscatter units, mobile radios, cameras and laptops for pursuit vehicles, and remote video surveillance system enhancements.”

Napolitano also said until the reassessment is complete, DHS is freezing all funding for the program beyond what’s for the initial deployment of SBInet’s Block 1 initial deployment to the Tucson and Ajo regions. Boeing, the prime contractor for the project, got the SBInet contract in September 2006.

Related Story:

Napolitano explains why less (money) is more for SBInet

 “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 the statement. “The system of sensors and cameras along the Southwest border known as SBInet has been plagued with cost overruns and missed deadlines.”

The Secure Border Initiative and the SBInet virtual fence program would get $574.17 million under President Barack Obama’s proposed 2011 budget. That’s down sharply from the $800 million the program got in fiscal 2010.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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