The Department of Homeland Security published a strategic plan for the Secure Border Initiative last Friday. The document included a projection that the SBINet project would cost $7.6 billion over the next five years (in 2006 dollars, so the actual amount is higher), a total that is several times larger than the $2 billion estimate that was touted by industry analysts at the beginning of 2006. This estimate prompted criticism by incoming Senate HSGAC Chairman Joe Lieberman. This total is broken out into three categories in the accompanying strategic plan – acquisition costs, integrated logistics support, and operations costs – but there is no further breakdown of the $7.6 billion estimate in either document. It raises again the question, which I’ve discussed previously, as to whether the most cost-effective mix of people, technology, and physical infrastructure is being considered here. At a $7.6 billion cost, a “virtual fence” sounds like it’s more expensive than a real fence. In any case, I expect that Congress will want to know more about this before appropriating funds in FY 2008.
This strategic plan is useful in another respect, in that it provides a solid set of border security statistics, measured over a multi-year period in many cases. For example, on page 35 it shows the real shift in the apprehension and detention of Other-than-Mexicans (“OTMs”) at the border over the past year, with detention rates climbing rapidly from the mid-50% range to over 95% during the summer of 2006 – a reality that seems to have had a deterrent effect on OTM entry, with apprehension numbers gradually declining in 2006.
You can read the full “Secure Border Strategic Plan” at this link.