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$32,000 Per Illegal Alien? Congress, What In The World Are You Thinking?

This week the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security held a hearing entitled Protecting the Homeland: How can DHS use DOD Technology to Secure the Border? The purpose of the hearing appeared to be how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and law enforcement agencies might be able to take advantage of technology currently used by Department of Defense (DoD) components in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the world. If subcommittee members believed that DoD equipment and services could easily be transitioned to a homeland and law enforcement use, the testimony could not have pleased them.

Dr. Adam Cox, Acting Deputy Director of HSARPA within DHS Science & Technology (S&T), laid bare the notion that technology transition would be a low cost solution. As Aliya Sternstein reported in NextGov:

“‘Transitioning technology from the battlefield to the border is not simply plug and play,’ testified Adam Cox, acting deputy director for DHS advanced research projects agency. He too brought up the economic issues plaguing many civilian agencies: ‘Uncertain budgets are also detrimental to our relationships with DoD,’ Cox said.”

Even Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Assistant Commissioner for Information Technology, Innovation and Acquisition, Mark Borkowski – who has built a reputation of wanting to tell Members of Congress what they want to hear – got into the act of explaining why DoD equipment may not be a good deal for DHS. As Rob Margetta reported in CQ:

“The biggest problem comes down to a disparity of resources between Defense and Homeland Security. Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner of technology innovation and acquisition at Customs and Border Protection, said adapting self-contained technology is relatively easy. Complex systems are harder to integrate, particularly since the Defense Department frequently relies on satellite communications. For DHS agencies, persistent satellite communication is very expensive, he said.

“Furthermore, he said, the Defense Department has many more resources for training and integration. Miller mentioned that border agencies could adopt military surveillance aerostats — blimplike balloons used for surveillance. But, Borkowski said, those require crews and have significant operating costs. ’Relatively complex systems require crew training,’ he said.”

Was anybody listening to what they said? Many DoD systems have a significantly higher cost for civilian agencies than other technologies due to operational complexity and crew requirements.

What better example do we have than the CBP’s use of the Predator UAV? Yet for some reason that eludes me, Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are blind to the costs and operational ineffectiveness of the Predator by CBP. It baffles me that otherwise smart people like Subcommittee Chair Rep. Candice Miller and the ranking member, Rep. Henry Cuellar, are enamored beyond logic with the use of the military-like Predator UAVs for border surveillance.

If they needed evidence of wasted spending of homeland security dollars, they need only look to an article by Mark Hewitt published by The American Thinker, “$32,000 Per Illegal Alien?”

Hewitt, who describes himself as a former Aircraft Maintenance Director for the US Border Patrol (1995-2000) and a former U.S. Marine Corp pilot, meticulously detailed his calculation of the operational costs of the various aircraft used by the Border Patrol, when he worked there, in support of border surveillance and enforcement missions. In that role, one of his duties was to “collect and report metrics for the monthly Air Operations Measures of Effectiveness Report for the Border Patrol’s National Aircraft Maintenance Program – such as costs per flight hour, mission capability rates, and so on.”

I wonder whether Representatives Miller or Cuellar have ever asked to see this “Measures of Effectiveness Report?” Does it still exist, and if not, why not?

One would think that in a “constrained budget environment,” as it was called in the hearing, this would be a key document in understanding whether the money spent on Predators by CBP is a smart investment. But I cannot recall a single instance – and I welcome the opportunity to be proven wrong – where anyone gushing about putting more Predators on the border has mentioned this “Measures of Effectiveness Report” and I wonder why.

Hewitt’s conclusion about studies he performed explains why someone needs to start asking questions:

“I calculated the cost of apprehending a single illegal alien, by type of aircraft. The cost of apprehending a single illegal alien using a $100K fixed-wing aircraft was $20; the cost of apprehending a single illegal alien using a $1M helicopter was almost $220.

It should come to a shock to the public that Customs and Border Protection paid $240 million for unmanned systems which have only been ‘credited with apprehending more than 7,500 people since they were deployed six years ago.’ Is the cost of apprehending a single illegal alien with a Predator really $32,000?

Whether Hewitt’s analysis is still accurate may be open to debate. But even if the Predator’s actual cost per apprehension is only half of his calculation, I am still struck at what an incredible waste of money it is relative to other air platforms which are more effective and more efficient.

Where are the budget hawks asking the tough questions? Why aren’t Homeland Security committee members asking the “right” questions about cost comparisons, rather than being so enamored with Predator capabilities standing alone? Why are they ignoring the DHS S&T Analysis of Alternatives on border security that shows the Predator is the most costly of various border security technologies?

As Dr. Cox and Mark Borkowski testified this week, just because a technology works in a military setting does not mean it fits the homeland security/law enforcement mission.

To the Members of Congress, I ask again, “What in the world are you thinking?”

David Olive focuses his blogging primarily on the “business of homeland security” — the interaction of the private sector with the Department of Homeland Security and other national security agencies. Read More
  • Anonymous

    This illegal immigration is costing us BILLIONS.   How’s this for an idea? Make entering this country illegally a felony. Make the fine $2500 plus one year in Federal prison. Make this the same on overstayed VISAs. If drugs are involved, triple the fine. Then, apply this to all the illegal aliens in this country now. Leave or if you get caught, the fine will apply to them. Maybe, just maybe, this will take the place of a fence that is costly and doesn’t seem to work all that well. It may even cut down on the cost of deporting these illegal aliens. The other thing is this birthright citizenship. We MUST know through Congress or the Supreme Court if indeed a child born to an illegal alien is a U.S. citizen. I say they are not. If not, then, how do we REVOKE the birth certificates already issued. Boy, can you see the problems with this illegal immigration? Maybe Congress should allow states to enforce immigration laws, or at least a few of them. When is enough going to be enough? Tell me!