Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Work to cease on 'virtual fence' along U.S.-Mexico border

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Obama administration will halt new work on a "virtual fence" on the U.S.-Mexican border, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitanoannounced Tuesday, diverting $50 million in planned economic stimulus funds for the project to other purposes.

Napolitano said the freeze on work beyond two pilot projects in Arizona was pending a broader reassessment. But the move signals a likely death knell for a troubled five-year plan to drape a chain of tower-mounted sensors and other surveillance gear across most of the 2,000-mile southern border.

That vision, initiated in 2006 by President George W. Bush, called for a series of networked cameras, radar and communications gear to help speed the response of U.S. Border Patrol officers to catch illegal immigrants and smugglers over the vast border area. However, the effort has been plagued by technical problems and delays with prime contractor Boeing Corp.

Obama officials embraced the program, known as SBInet, on taking office in 2009, setting out a newfive-year timetable for completion. However, the administration last month proposed cutting funding to finish SBInet's first phase by roughly 30 percent to $574 million, under new congressional questioning about the plan's feasibility.

In a four-sentence statement, Napolitano said the department will immediately redeploy $50 million of stimulus funds to other technology, including mobile surveillance devices, sensors, radios and laptop computers.


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