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Friday, August 15, 2008

Securing the Border for Fun and Profit

The PBS show NOW aired a report on August 15, 2008 on the status of the "Secure Border Initiative" -- the project intended to block illegal immigration and infiltration of terrorists across the US / Mexican border. The story reflects all the elements of government at its worst:

* outsourcing of key decision making to private contractors (Boeing)
* sham public meetings ostensibly conducted to gather community input
* failed project management and flawed deliverables rewarded by more dollars
* arbitrary and capricious use of the government's power of eminent domain

The SBI project aims at improving border security through the construction of a physical fence in "high traffic" areas of illegal immigration and a virtual fence of high-tech surveillance tools for wider ranges of space to spot crossings and dispatch border officials to attempt to intercept illegals. The NOW story recaps several findings originally reported by Melissa Bosque on February 22, 2008 in The Texas Observer. (#1)

On the virtual fence front, much of the development work has been outsourced to Boeing. Millions have already been paid for the work but unfortunately, the actual leadership of the Border Patrol was not adequately consulted by the developers to identify what the system needs to do so initial efforts have proven to be worthless. No problem, if the first $21.6 million didn't solve the problem, here's more money. Sounds familiar.

Melissa Bosque of The Texas Observer found public meetings held to supposedly explain construction plans on the physical fence to affected communities and gather input from local citizens were shams arranged by outsourced consultants who brought no actual decision makers with the project planning to the meetings, allowed no legitimate question/answer sessions in the meetings, and brought none of the public comments back to SBI project management. Sounds familiar.

Most Americans hearing of the plan for a giant barrier fence picture the fence being constructed right on the actual US / Mexican border with no "lost" land. No way, Jose. Plans for the physical fence actually involve constructing it well within US territory. Of course, this is not just US government territory, this is private land owned by American citizens. In many cases, the Federal Government has offered to pay affected landowners for the land occupied by the fence. However, think about that for a second.

* you own 600 acres on the US / Mexican border
* the government wants to build a fence requiring a 50 foot strip through your property
* that fence might actually lie HUNDREDS of feet inside your property
* the fence strands potentially HUNDREDS of acres on the "unsecure" side of the fence, rendering the practical value of that property worthless
* you are only being compensated for the sliver of land occupied by the actual fence

The Texas Observer also found rather capricious decisions being made about where the fence is being constructed. A family farm? Yea, let's put it there. The upper crust River Bend Resort? Let's snake around that. What illegal worker or terrorist is likely to bring a sand wedge with them for the crossing?

Let's recap. An ill-conceived government project justified by national security, outsourced to a poorly performing but lavishly compensated contractor, presented to the public with sham public comment sessions leveraging abusive use of eminent domain while protecting property of well-connected parties from the damage. This might be the poster-child project for out-of-control, outsourced government for private gain.


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#1) http://www.texasobserver.org/article.php?aid=2688