DHS should assess effects of physical border fence, watchdog says

Border fence cost $2.6 billion vs. $1.6 billion for SBInet

The Homeland Security Department has spent $2.6 billion on physical fencing and barriers at the border of the United States and Mexico during the past five years, but it has not studied the effectiveness of that spending, according to a new report today from the Government Accountability Office.

As of April, DHS’ Customs and Border Protection agency has completed 646 of the 652 planned miles of physical fencing and tactical infrastructure at the southwest border, with the remaining miles to be finished by year’s end.

The agency asserted that the physical fencing and barriers, along with additional agents, has increased the area of border under tactical control, GAO said in the report.


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However, “Despite a $2.6 billion investment, [CBP] cannot account separately for the impact of tactical infrastructure,” the GAO report said. “Until CBP determines the contribution of tactical infrastructure to border security, it is not positioned to address the impact of this investment.”

GAO said that in September 2009 it recommended that CBP conduct a cost-effective evaluation of the physical fencing and vehicle barriers to determine their effects on border security. CBP officials agreed with the recommendation and said actions were under way.

Meanwhile, during the same period, CBP has spent $1.6 billion on the Secure Border Initiative Network electronic surveillance system, which currently spans 53 miles of the border of Arizona and Mexico, the GAO report said.

GAO noted that it has issued numerous audits and reports on SBInet, most recently at a congressional hearing in April. Today's report summarized previous findings on SBInet.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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