Tighter budgets and waning wars in the Middle East could boost the Homeland Security Department’s effort to secure the borders.
Increasingly, the Defense Department has excess property as troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan. Facing pressure to use resources more effectively, Customs and Border Protection is borrowing military technology such as drones and airships to find drug smugglers and human traffickers crossing the nation’s border with Mexico.
“We rack and stack their prioritized requests for assistance,” he said. “And then we, with the help of the Defense Logistics Agency, try to match up their requirements with what we have.”
Members of Congress, including subcommittee chairperson Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), are supportive of the equipment transfer.
“Funding levels are headed in one direction — down,” she said. “We need to be good stewards of very scarce taxpayer dollars to provide the security the American people demand.”
CBP still is reeling from the effects of a botched virtual border fence, SBINet. The project involved video cameras, radar equipment and sensors to watch the southern border. But it became an expensive failure for DHS, which spent $1 billion before canceling it in January after cost overruns and contracting problems.
The agency replaced SBINet with a similar project that will, at first, focus on the Arizona-Mexico border, popular with drug smugglers and human traffickers. But the Government Accountability Office has criticized the new plan, saying the project includes some of the same shortfalls that caused SBINet to fail.
“CBP has not documented the analysis justifying the specific types, quantities, and deployment locations of border surveillance technologies proposed in the plan,” Richard Stana, GAO’s director of homeland security and justice issues, wrote in the report. “CBP officials also have not yet defined the mission benefits expected from implementing the new plan.”
DoD’s hand-me-down equipment could help CBP save its bottom line. Miller is pushing for a more formal approach to help DHS acquire military technology, arguing the process needs to be simplified. But CBP leaders worry that approach will hamper their ability to get equipment from non-DoD partners.
“I have things that come to me outside of those [DoD] chains. And often they are interesting,” said Mark Borkowski, who leads the CBP Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition.
He said a partnership dedicated to DoD and his agency would shut down lines of communications CBP has with other agencies.
“The best I can do is make it clear that I am willing to receive as much as someone is willing to offer,” he said.