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Homeland Security News 

Bill Coming Due for Last Decade’s Border Buildup 


By Stew Magnuson 

Congressional mandates of the 2000s designed to bolster the Southwest border are coming back to impact the federal budget in a negative way, said a former Customs and Border Protection commissioner.

In 2011, some 87 percent of CBP’s budget was consumed by personnel costs, which is 6 percent higher than 2009, said Ralph Basham, now a principal at the Command Consulting Group.

Part of the congressional push to increase security in the Southwest was the doubling of the number Border Patrol agents, he said at the National Defense Industrial Association Homeland Security Symposium in Arlington, Va.

In the Yuma sector in Arizona in 2005, about 313 agents apprehended 138,000 illegal border crossers. In 2011, there were 969 agents assigned there, and the number dropped to 5,833 apprehensions. That is six apprehensions per year, per agent.

“The trend is unsustainable,” he said.

Thirteen percent of the budget is all that remains in order to purchase and maintain infrastructure and equipment, and pursue new technology. The Border Patrol’s budget has swelled from about $1 billion in 2000 to $3.5 billion in the 2012 budget.

All this comes as equipment put in place in 2005 is wearing out, he said.

“And right now, unless something changes dramatically, that [87 percent] number is going to continue to go up,” he said.

Basham also gave some insight into how the legislation that specified the amount of fencing built on the border was created.

The digits for the number of miles of fencing Congress mandated were wrong in 2008. CBP had determined that 617 miles of fencing were needed. Someone writing the bill had flubbed the number, and it came out as 670. That mistake was pointed out to lawmakers, but instead of correcting it, Congress let it slide and the law was enacted with the extra 53 miles.

Government Accountability Office reports attempting to get a handle on the per-mile cost of building fences along the border that year noted that the price tag varied widely depending on the type of fence, the topography and labor costs. Pedestrian fencing, for example, could range from $400,000 per mile to $15.1 million per mile, for an average of $3.8 million. Vehicle fences averaged $1 million per mile. Taking the averages, the extra 53 miles could have cost taxpayers anywhere from $53 million to $201 million.

And that does not include lifecycle costs. The GAO pointed out at the time of the border buildup that no one really knew how much upkeep of the fencing would cost over the span of its lifetime. Taxpayers could be paying for unneeded repair bills for years to come.

Photo Credit: Customs and Border Protection
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