- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Technology to replace a now-defunct virtual-fence project at the Mexican border likely won’t be fully in place for at least another decade, maybe longer, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Richard Stana, director of homeland security and justice issues at the GAO, said Tuesday that the mix of cameras, radar and other sophisticated technology will first be deployed to the border in Arizona over the next two years. The technology mix is expected to be fully deployed in that state by 2015 or 2016.

Mr. Stana, who testified Tuesday before a House subcommittee on border and maritime security, said the security project would next expand to California, New Mexico and Texas but isn’t likely to be fully in place until at least 2021, and possibly not until 2026.

The new technology plan replaces a virtual-fence project that cost nearly $1 billion before the Obama administration scrapped it earlier this year after repeated delays and glitches. It will be added to stationary cameras, underground sensors and other security infrastructure already in place.

Rep. Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican, balked at the idea that the high-tech gear, which he said is already available to the military, would take more than a decade to be deployed.

“You are talking 10 to 15 years. It took us a decade to put a man on the moon,” Mr. McCaul said. “I don’t understand why it takes so long. You have a crisis going on down there. Everyone knows it. We know how dangerous it is in Mexico, we know how dangerous it is on the border. Why can’t we ramp up this process?”

Mark Borkowski, Customs and Border Protection assistant commissioner for technology innovation and acquisition, said the new equipment could be bought more quickly if Congress allocated the money the Arizona project is expected to have a price tag of about $755 million but where to put what equipment has not been determined.

“The question is where do we put the first ones and why do we put them there,” Mr. Borkowski said.

He said Homeland Security officials are putting the new equipment in Arizona first because it is the busiest Border Patrol sector in the country.

After the morning hearing, Mr. Borkowski said he had not previously heard the GAO time line, but conceded that the technology deployment is a multiyear plan. And future budgets will have a big influence on how much gear is bought and when it is deployed.

The virtual fence, which was officially abandoned in January, was initiated in 2005 and was originally expected to be fully in place by this year. Instead, only about 53 miles of operational “virtual fence” was put in place in Arizona at a cost of about $15 million a mile.