More ‘Eyes in the Skies’ but Not on Accountability

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Finally, the more mainstream media has started to question the billions the government has spent on border security and ask some important questions: What does a secure border look like? How much more do we need to spend to achieve it, and is it even working?

I know I’ve been harping on this for a while. But  with a massive federal deficit and unprecedented borrowing to fund two wars overseas Congress needs to examine what we are getting for our money at the border. Anyone who has been to the border in the last two years, knows that the security buildup has significantly increased. We have twice the number of Border Patrol agents, (approximately 20,000 – up from 10,000 in 2004), an 18-foot wall and a previously unprecedented 400,000 people being deported every year.

Congress is beating the drums for more funding but not asking for any accountability measures. You may remember that SBInet was yesterday’s answer to a secure border. We were never given the specifics on how the virtual fence would work exactly, only that Boeing was working on the $8 billion project in the Arizona desert. The deadlines for completion kept getting pushed back. Finally, after another scathing GAO report last March Homeland Security pulled the plug. Now $100 million will be diverted from that SBInet project to “higher priority replacement and repair of fences” along the southwest border, according to Obama’s request for more border security funding yesterday.

At least the Government Accountability Office, which is Congress’ accounting and investigative arm, was looking at SBInet so we had an idea of what we were getting (or in this case not getting for our money.)

President Obama sent his request to Congress yesterday asking for $500 million for more border security and outlined what the money would be spent on.  The request includes $37 million for two new Predator drones to patrol the border. It seems that Predator drones are the newly favored high-cost solution for border security that Congress has latched on to these days.

Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn  and Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar have been very publicly pushing for the drones to patrol the entire Texas-Mexico border. Cornyn even blocked Senate confirmation of the President’s nominee for FAA assistant administrator, Michael Huerta, until he got his second drone in Texas.

We’ll now have two Predator drones flying the Texas border and more on the way.

Despite the FAA’s  approval of a second Predator drone in Texas, Cornyn told the San Antonio Express-News that the administration’s efforts to secure the border “have been anemic at best.”

“It’s too little, really, too late,” he said.

And therein lies the problem. If $600 million and Predator drones is “anemic” what does Senator Cornyn, Senator Kyl or any of the other congressional members lamenting our porous border define as success?

If they really want a secure border maybe they should ask the GAO to take a look at what’s in place and see if it’s working. What about a discussion on what Predator drones will do to increase border security? And how are the growing number of unmanned planes going to impact our airspace? From the meager information I’ve seen out there, every time a drone flies the FAA has to clear the airspace of other planes. Maybe this isn’t such a big deal in remote desert areas in Arizona, but in heavily populated areas in Texas with international airports it could be a real hazard.

The Brownsville Herald already reported last week that a drone went off course flying from Arizona to Texas. And  U.S. Customs and Border Protection has crashed drones before in Arizona.

But at $18 million a drone, who really cares? Congress will just borrow more money. And we’ll get the bill.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. Melissa is a 2014-15 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.