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.