Saturday, February 5, 2011

‘Virtual fence’ got late review of costs, benefits

A Homeland Security report made public in January that accompanied a statement canceling the virtual-fence project, dubbed SBInet, conceded that only last year did department officials conduct a comprehensive cost-effectiveness analysis of the project on the U.S.-Mexico border — four years after the plan had been approved and at a time the project was behind schedule, over budget and facing costly overruns.

The department said it did not until last year formally assess the operational value of the system against the projected costs, even though the contract was awarded in 2006 and such tests are normally a prerequisite for a project of that size.

The report determined that the virtual-fence project was “not the most efficient, effective and economical way to meet our nation’s border security needs,” although by then, the department had spent $1 billion for 53 miles of protection along the 1,969-mile U.S.-Mexico border as part of the much-heralded SBInet program.

Homeland Security’s assessment coincided with a stinging report in October by the GAO, the latest in a series of negative reports by the watchdog agency on SBInet that began in 2007. The GAO said Homeland Security had failed to effectively manage the project or give sufficient oversight to its prime contractor, the Boeing Co.

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