The loose administration and "anything-goes" mentality surrounding Operation Stonegarden has raised concerns that it might not be the best use of federal taxpayer money.
It's not the first time such concerns have been raised about programs involving the U.S. Border Patrol and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security.
The government's border security strategy has been plagued by high-priced initiatives rolled out with little oversight and no measures of success, resulting in big spending that produces little, reports by the Government Accountability Office and the DHS inspector general show.
Despite a $2.4 billion investment to build 264 miles of fencing and 226 miles of vehicle barriers in the last five years, the impact of these barriers on border security is unknown because it has not been measured, according to a September 2009 GAO report.
"Until CBP determines the contribution of tactical infrastructure to border security, it is not positioned to address the impact of this investment," the report said, referring to Customs and Border Protection.
A one-year evaluation of U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints by the GAO found that the agency's self-reported data are insufficient to determine if the inspection stations are efficient or effective.
A 147-page GAO report, released in September, also shows that the agency overstated checkpoint results in the last two years due to a lack of management oversight and inconsistent data-gathering and analysis throughout the agency.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has paid Boeing Co. $1.1 billion since 2006 to create and build a border-long network of camera, sensor and radar towers. To date, only a flawed test system in Arizona is being used by the Border Patrol. The virtual fences were supposed to be completed along the Southwest Border by October 2009. Now, they are expected to be done by 2016.
Homeland Security and its precursors spent $429 million between 1998 and 2005 on border surveillance systems that were set off by movement of animals, trains and wind, the department's Office of Inspector General reported in 2005.
Instead of getting a hold on the spending, the Obama administration has compounded the problem by sending more money to the Southwest border in reaction to the drug war in Mexico and the perceived spillover into the United States, said Tom Barry, senior analyst at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C., and director of the Center's TransBorder Project of the Americas Policy Program.
"These programs are based on political pressure, political opportunism," Barry said. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "and CBP have created an array of programs and initiatives without ever putting into place the regulations and benchmarks to assure that these initiatives are well-focused and effective."
DHS has been panned time and again by the GAO and its own inspector general for not being able to effectively manage private contracts, said Barry, who is investigating that issue currently.
"So much waste and abuse, and this has been a pattern from the creation of DHS," Barry said.
Homeland Security has been bursting with money since its creation in 2003 with no big-picture analysis, said Jennifer Allen, director of the Tucson-based Border Action Network.
"It's just falling where it may," Allen said. "We have to stop and come to terms that there is a lot of buildup along the border. We need to take stock of what's already there and what's effective."