When '$2 billion' and 'complete failure' are in the same sentence

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04/23/2010

It's not like it's a secret that the equipment installed along our Southwest border isn't working properly. About a month ago, Secretary Napolitano announced she was freezing all funding for the Secure Border Initiative Network along the Mexican border, so you know things weren't going well. A damning 60 Minutes piece also exposed the failures of the 28-mile pilot test that took three years to figure out the $2 billion investment wasn't going to work. But so far, the language has been somewhat mild, with several folks saying: "Well, it sort of works,” said Rich Stana, who wrote a report on the project last year for the Government Accountability Office.

But now people aren't staying so PC. Here's the lede graph in this article by the Federal Times:

The Homeland Security Department today said its virtual border fence has been a "complete failure," and is trying to figure out how to proceed on the troubled $2 billion project.

Like I said, no one ever wants to hear "complete failure" and "$2 billion" in the same sentence. Here's a little refresher about the project:

Homeland Security hired Boeing in 2006 to install thousands of video and infrared cameras, radars and ground sensors to provide constant surveillance along the Southwest border. Computers and software were meant to combine that information to produce a real-time picture of smugglers and migrants.

But after spending between $700 million and $800 million to build a 28-mile pilot version of the system in Arizona, Homeland Security has almost nothing to show for it. The system has difficulty seeing clearly and often transmits false alarms.

There have been other efforts to improve security along the border including John McCain calling for DHS to increase the presence of the National Guard. The Texas Border Coalition has also been advocating for massive investments in infrastructure, technology and personnel at the 42 ports of entry in the U.S. to “avoid becoming the path of choice for human and drug smugglers.” And the governor of Texas has also called for more unmanned Predator drones to help protect the border.

But, I think the "complete failure" of this virtual fence could have a huge impact on the security industry, particularly those who manufacture some of these advanced technologies. I mean, if the government can't get these things to work in a project that's critical to national security, is that proof these technologies aren't viable? While I realize the government put a huge emphasis on integrating "off-the-shelf" products (and you get what you pay for) I think it could be real hard for some companies to dig themselves out of this hole, involved or not.