Flood gates open on border security opportunities
President Bush sent Congress a $1.9 billion request Thursday to increase border security.
About $1.17 billion of the $1.95 billion request would fund Department of Homeland Security measures such as adding 1,000 new border patrol agents ($235 million), adding two additional unmanned aerial vehicles and helicopters ($95 million), improving border security infrastructure, including fencing and vehicle barriers ($250 million) and adding 4,000 detention beds ($80 million).
The request also includes $756 million for up to 6,000 National Guard troops.
It is a major part of the fallout from Bush's Monday night speech to the nation calling for increased security on the border between the United States and Mexico.
"We do not yet have full control of the border, and I am determined to change that," Bush said in the 17-minute address Monday.
On Wednesday, the Senate followed the House's lead and voted 83-16 to build 370 miles of fence in areas "most often used by smugglers and illegal aliens" as determined by federal officials. The Senate also approved 500 miles of vehicle barriers.
The underlying Senate bill provides for a "virtual" fence along the border using cameras, sensors and other technology to monitor the border, with an estimated cost of roughly $3.2 million per mile, according to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala).
"Boots on the ground is not really enough," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says. "You've got to leverage those boots; you've got to make them as effective as possible. And the way to do that is more tactical infrastructure — things like fences, vehicle barriers and roads — and as important, next generation technology.
"You have to look at putting together an integrated technology package, using all the equipment that's out there that you can choose from," he adds. "It has to be presented to us as something that will be fully integrated with the operators. So that, for example, we won't have the problem of sensors that are not fully integrated with the operators, or sensors that are not linked to the cameras."
The New York Times reported Thursday that three of the nation's largest defense contractors — Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman — have confirmed they plan to submit bids within two weeks for an estimated $2 billion federal contract to build the "virtual fence." Two other companies, Boeing and Ericsson, are also expected to bid.
But beyond buying the type of high-tech equipment that these companies have already put to use in Afghanistan and Iraq, the newspaper reports that the administration will be asking the contractors to devise and build a whole new border strategy that ties together the personnel, technology and physical barriers.
"This is an unusual invitation," the deputy secretary of Homeland security, Michael Jackson, told contractors this year at an industry briefing, according to the Times report. "We're asking you to come back and tell us how to do our business."