U.S.-Mexico "virtual fence" plagued by problems

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A $4.4 billion project led by Boeing Co. to build a “virtual fence” along the U.S.-Mexico border is consistently over budget, behind schedule, and fails to meet performance standards, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched the high-tech surveillance fence project five years ago to use cameras, radars, and sensors to detect any breaches between border crossings. “Overall, DHS has not done an effective job of managing and overseeing its prime contractor [Boeing], including monitoring the contractor’s performance,” the new report said.

For the past three years, the GAO has reported to Congress multiple times about the problem-riddled fence and criticized both Boeing and the Homeland Security Department. The department failed to set specific timelines and budgets for the project, according to the GAO, while poor management led to sub-standard work by Boeing that had to be redone.

Last January, the department froze spending on the project, which has eaten up just over $1 billion so far. Completion of the virtual fence, initially set for early 2009, has now been pushed to 2016.

FAST FACT: The virtual fence being tested near Tucson, Arizona will cover just a 53-mile stretch of the nearly 2,000-mile border with Mexico.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities. Congressional Research Service reports, which prepared for lawmakers but not made public, were provided by the Center for Democracy and Technology:

FINANCE

  • Colorado-based Zion First National Bank, a lender in the Education Department’s student loan program, failed to obtain required security releases and improperly invested collection account funds in money market funds that bought securities (OIG).

NATIONAL SECURITY

  • The FBI’s electronic case management system, developed by Lockheed Martin Corp., is two years behind schedule and $100 million over budget. The Justice Dept. is reducing Lockheed’s role, but is unsure of how to complete the project, which has already cost $405 million (OIG).

HEALTH CARE

  • The Health and Human Services Dept. may have stretched the truth, but it did not violate a law barring appropriated funds for publicity or propaganda when it hired actor Andy Griffith for three TV ads about Medicare coverage after the health care reform law (GAO).

MISC.

  • Some federal workers receive both federal employee compensation benefits and disability insurance payments, resulting in an overpayment of $603,140 (OIG).

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