$20M Northern Border tech project kept alive

A House subcommittee chairman has rejected a request to cancel a $20 million high-tech program at the border of the United States and Canada.

A House subcommittee chairman has rejected a request by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to cancel the planned $20 million Northern Border technology solution program at the border of the United States and Canada.

The proposed cancellation and reprogramming of funding for the project is “ill-advised,” Rep. David Price (D-N.C)., who chairs the House Appropriations Committee's Homeland Security Subcommittee  wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff Sept. 19. Price denied the agency’s reprogramming request for the Northern Border project, saying that Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), the panel's ranking member, agreed with that recommendation.

With the exception of that project, Price approved the $378 million reprogramming and transfer requests from the Homeland Security Department. The money is being taken from several accounts, including the Secure Border Initiative Network virtual fence border surveillance technology program and is being transferred to tactical infrastructure accounts to pay the rising costs of pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers.

“This committee will not stand in the way of the department’s efforts to construct fencing by the end of the year solely because of funding shortfalls, even though I have serious doubts about its ability to accomplish its stated goals,” Price wrote.

DHS officials requested reprogramming of approximately $140 million, and transfer of $238 million from a border security account. Although under law the department does not require Congress’ approval to conduct the funding redirections, typically an administration follows the recommendations of  chairmen for such items.

Price said the cost increases of 87 percent for pedestrian fencing and 40 percent for vehicle barriers have been surprising, and he wondered whether the fence and barrier benefits outweigh the costs.

Price also expressed alarm at the postponement of the SBInet technology project. The project, which was scheduled for deployment in two sections in Arizona in July, has been postponed until at least January 2009 because of delays in obtaining federal land permits and the need to conduct additional testing of the technologies, CBP officials have said.

Those deployments now are not likely to be completed until 2009 or 2010, Price said.

DHS officials have said they hope to build 670 miles of physical fencing at the southern border this year, and to date it have built about 340 miles. However, as Price noted in the letter, DHS officials recently revised the goal so that they now aim to have 670 miles of fencing under contract this year, but not necessarily completed.

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