Border Fence Will be Built by Defense Contractors

The Senate voted yesterday to “build 370 miles of triple-layered fencing along the Mexican border.” Assuming that makes it through conference and passes into law, who’ll build this political so to the “secure our borders” constituency? Why, defense contractors, of course.

The quick fix may involve sending in the National Guard. But to really patch up the broken border, President Bush is preparing to turn to a familiar administration partner: the nation’s giant military contractors. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman, three of the largest, are among the companies that said they would submit bids within two weeks for a multibillion-dollar federal contract to build what the administration calls a “virtual fence” along the nation’s land borders.

Using some of the same high-priced, high-tech tools these companies have already put to work in Iraq and Afghanistan — like unmanned aerial vehicles, ground surveillance satellites and motion-detection video equipment — the military contractors are zeroing in on the rivers, deserts, mountains and settled areas that separate Mexico and Canada from the United States.

It is a humbling acknowledgment that despite more than a decade of initiatives with macho-sounding names, like Operation Hold the Line in El Paso or Operation Gate Keeper in San Diego, the federal government has repeatedly failed on its own to gain control of the land borders. Through its Secure Border Initiative, the Bush administration intends to not simply buy an amalgam of high-tech equipment to help it patrol the borders — a tactic it has also already tried, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, with extremely limited success. It is also 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, just before the bidding period for this new contract started. “We’re asking you to come back and tell us how to do our business.”

Unfortunately–and I say this as someone who works for a defense contractor, albeit a small, friendly one–our government increasingly contracts out anything requiring genuine expertise. While we employ armies of civil service employees, who make the key decisions and provide continuity, almost all the technical work is done by outside contractors.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Stevely says:

    The whole government does that. NASA has few government scientists and engineers now, just about everything is done by contractors.

    Amongst other things, it’s way for politicians to show that they’ve “shrunk the size of government” by transferring jobs to contractors. Of course the tax payer doesn’t save anything. The job still has to be done, and IMO some of the big contractors are becoming arms of the government.

    Of course the government needs industry to build weapons, vehicles and equipment, but when it turns to contractors to do administrative jobs and other jobs internal to government agencies, things have gone too far.

  2. DC Loser says:

    I’ve been watching this fiscal charade and musical chair game being foisted on us by Congress and the Executive Branch for the past 15 years, starting with Algore’s “Reinventing the Government.” Now the federal government is expecting to lose more than 40% of its workforce in the next decade due to baby boomer retirement, and substituting them with wet behind the ears new college grads. Expect more of the same.

  3. DC Loser says:

    We should check with some former East German specialists in fortified borders for this project.

  4. Lindy R. Dole says:


  5. Steven Plunk says:

    State’s are the same. Our state DOT is staffed primarily with engineers but almost all engineering work is contracted out. To make it worse the outside contractors are usually ex-DOT people.

    Until some sort of accountability is installed the taxpayers will continue to get ripped off.

  6. Eric J says:

    I pick June, 2007 for the first “Border Fence Contractors Employ Illegal Immigrants” headline.

  7. leelu says:

    The whole thing will be brought to a screeching halt by the Sierra Club suit to protect the endangered Southwest Sand Gnat.

    Wait for it…

  8. I’m not necessarily convinced that the use of contractors is a bad thing. One advantage can already be seen from the article above – the contractors have done some of this work before for other government agencies. What if each agency had to re-invent the wheel every time the same project had to be performed again?

    Another benefit is that contracting this work minimizes disruptions to the government labor pool. If the governments were responsible for staffing these big projects themselves while continuing their regular work, then they’d either have massive scheduling issues (to get that fence built, send the secretaries down to Yuma PRONTO!), or they’d have to hire temporary government workers to do the job (and then it would be the GOVERNMENT who’d be hiring the illegal aliens – the military does it all the time).

  9. GoHskrs says:

    Defense contractors can — and do — have their contracts terminated for non-performance.

    Defense employees, not so much. They often get promoted (and thus paid more) for non-performance.

    There are taxpayer ripoffs going on, all right, but to blame only contractors misses the point.

  10. floyd says:

    was that”defense contractors” or “de-fence contractors”? will they hire illegal aliens to cut costs,especially since this sounds like “the kind of job americans just won’t do”?