November 28, 2011
The Obama administration has slashed spending on border fencing, infrastructure and technology, cutting it by more than half since it peaked under President George W. Bush in fiscal 2008, according to a Government Accountability Office report.
In 2008, according to GAO, the federal government spent more than $1.3 billion on border security fencing, infrastructure and technology. In 2011, it spend $573 million.
Meanwhile, Customs and Border Protection has said that as of June it had fenced only 649 miles of the nearly 1,954-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border–leaving more than 1,300 miles of that border unfenced.
The November 2011 GAO report refers to this category of federal spending by the acronym BSFIT.
“Over $4.7 billion has been appropriated for BSFIT activities from fiscal years 2007 through 2011,” it says.
The report breaks the figure down for the five consecutive fiscal years (the 12-month period from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 of the following year) – $1.188 billion for FY2007, $1.303 billion for FY2008, $845 million for FY2009, $800 million for FY2010 and $573 million for FY2011.
Over that period, the annual appropriations for border security therefore peaked in FY2008 under President Bush and declined to its lowest level in FY2011 under President Obama.
“An across-the-board cut to DHS appropriations of 0.2 percent reduced the BSFIT appropriation to $573 million [in fiscal 2011],” notes the GAO. The report added that some of the annual appropriations covered in the report do not expire at the end of the fiscal year for which they were allotted.
The report also stated that last January, “after 5 years and a cost of nearly $1 billion,” the DHS ended the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) – also known as the virtual fence – “because it did not meet cost-effectiveness and viability standards.”
“DHS is developing a successor plan to secure the Southwest border called the Alternative (Southwest) Border Technology plan,” the report adds. “The plan’s first phase is the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan, which also includes a mix of radars, sensors, and cameras.” It is expected to cost about $1.5 billion over 10 years.
Explaining how the appropriations have been directed, the report said that in November 2005 the DHS initiated the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), described as “a multiyear, multibillion-dollar effort aimed at securing U.S. borders and reducing illegal immigration.”
Under the SBI, the DHS’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) implemented the following programs:
-SBI Network (SBI): radars, sensors, and cameras along 53 miles of Arizona’s 376-mile border with Mexico
-Northern Border Program: cameras, radars, and operations centers along the border with Canada
-Tactical Communications Modernization: an upgrade to the CBP communications systems
-Tactical Infrastructure: fences, roads, and lighting along the southwest border
According to the CBP, as of the end of June 2011 it had completed 649 miles of pedestrian and vehicle fencing along the approximately 2,000 mile-long Southwest border.
“A total of 350 miles of primary pedestrian fence has been constructed, while the final total of vehicle fence (the project was officially completed on January 8, 2010) was 299 miles,” it says.
A “primary pedestrian fence” is aimed at preventing the illegal passage of people while a “vehicle fence” is focused on stopping the unauthorized passage of vehicles.
“Their placement depends on the threat at the location and the operational needs of law enforcement,” CBP says.
CBP is responsible for securing a total of 8,607 miles of the U.S. border, including about 2,000 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, approximately 4,000 miles of the U.S.-Canada border, plus sectors of coastline in the Gulf of Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
As of the end of fiscal 2010, the U.S. government had established “effective control” over 1,107 miles of the 8,607 miles it is responsible for securing – 69 miles along the northern border, 873 on the U.S.-Mexico border and 165 miles in coastal sectors.
Less than half of the southwest border and less than two percent of the northern border are therefore under “effective control.” The term applies to those areas where the U.S. government can be “reasonably” be expected to intercept illegal cross-border activity.