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DHS Secure Border cost could hit $30 billion

Despite having picked Boeing as contractor, border project has no strategy, defined objectives or ability to manage the project.

The Dept. of Homeland Security inspector general says that the high-tech "virtual fence" on the Mexican border is likely to cost not $2 billion but as much as $30 billion, The Washington Post reports.

The problem with the plan to deploy sensors, cameras and drones is likely to suffer runaway costs because the project doesn't have defined objectives and contracting staff is overstretched.

Immigration-policy experts said the red flags raised over the border-security initiative could increase pressure on Congress to act on other measures they say are needed, such as stepping up enforcement against U.S. employers who hire illegal workers, cracking down on immigrants who overstay their visas, and overhauling legal immigration channels.

"If it's going to cost 8 to 30 billion dollars," asked Deborah W. Meyers, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, ". . . is that really the most effective way of achieving the policy goal?"

Government efforts to deploy technology to watch the border don't exactly have a great track record and a Democratic House will be particularly leery.

A much smaller attempt in the 1990s to deploy remote-sensing technology on the border "started as a $2 million program and turned into a quarter-billion-dollar disaster," said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), becoming "a poster child of government waste and mismanagement."

"It seems like deja vu all over again," said Rep. Kendrick B. Meek (D-Fla.).

Rep. Mark Edward Souder (R-Ind.) contrasted the administration's assertion that it could gain control of the border by 2009 with what the White House was prepared to pay for. Souder said he was "baffled" by the department's selection in September of aerospace giant Boeing Co. to lead the open-ended effort without more certainty about final cost.

"It could be between 2 and 30 billion dollars, you're not sure which? . . . So it's pie in the sky, 'give us your best shot'?" Souder said. "It just seems extraordinary."

Even DHS officials say no strategy has been settled on, so costs estimates are premature. "We do not have a cost estimate publicly," DHS official Greg Giddens said.