At a hearing held jointly today by two subcommittees of the House Homeland Security Committee, lawmakers and witnesses took turns dissecting the many faults and failures of the Department of Homeland Security’s ill-fated Secure Border Initiative Network, or SBInet—the $1.1 billion effort led by the Boeing Corporation to create a “virtual fence” along the U.S.-Mexico border through the deployment of cameras, sensors, and monitoring systems. SBInet is the high-tech counterpart to SBI Tactical Infrastructure, which involves the construction of physical fencing along the border as well. The hearing was devoted to answering a key question about SBInet: “Does it pass the border security test?” Given that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano froze funding for SBInet in March because of the program’s failure to live up to expectations, it is not surprising that the answer to this question from virtually everyone who spoke at the hearing was a resounding “No.”

Rep. Henry Cuellar, Chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism, pointed out that “SBInet has been plagued by poor planning, missed deadlines, technology issues, and inadequate oversight.” Rep. Christopher P. Carney, Chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Investigations, and Oversight, noted that “poorly defined requirements and limitations in the capabilities of commercially available system components have led [DHS] to downgrade its expectations for SBInet.” And, according to the testimony of Randolph C. Hite, Director of Information Technology Architecture and System Issues for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), SBInet has been plagued by “a growing number of system performance and quality problems” which are “not indicative of a maturing system.” In short, SBInet does not work.

In part, the SBInet effort to construct a virtual fence across the southwest border with Mexico has fallen victim to its own unrealistic expectations. It is wishful thinking to imagine that 2,000 miles of border land can be “secured” in just a few years, even under the best of circumstances.

However, SBInet is also a victim of the failure to implement immigration reform, which was intended to complement SBInet’s drive to “secure the border” with high-tech monitoring. The idea was that securing the border would be a much more feasible task once the unauthorized migration of workers and family members was channeled into legal avenues by the creation of realistic immigration limits. But that has yet to happen. As a result, most of our border-security initiatives—be they high-tech or low-tech—ensnare job seekers and people trying to join their loved ones in the United States rather than individuals who are actually a danger to the public. This is an enormous waste of resources, and makes finding that one needle in the haystack—that one person who actually is a threat—all the more difficult.

Photo by thealmightyprophetgitboy.