These were signature Bush administration initiatives to protect the country against terrorism and secure its borders. All have been proven to be flops, according to government and outside experts, and expensive ones at that.
The Department of Homeland Security paid defense contractor Boeing Co. $1.1 billion to build what is sometimes called the virtual border fence. But the system of radars and cameras can’t consistently tell terrorists from tumbleweed, according to the Government Accountability Office. In March, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano froze funding on the project.
In February, she overhauled plans to install so-called Advanced Spectroscopic Portal radiation detectors to screen cargo at ports. The units were prone to false alarms and hadn’t proved themselves in testing, according to the accountability office. Developed by defense contractor Raytheon under a $1.2-billion program, the $822,000 detectors will now be relegated to a secondary screening role.
Last May, the Transportation Security Administration removed 37 explosive trace detection machines — or "puffers" — that had been deployed at airports to screen airline passengers at a total cost of $30 million. The machines had maintenance problems and didn’t work consistently.
"DHS was pushing technology pretty hard under the Bush administration, and we were willing to risk failure because of the risks," said Stewart Baker, the former Homeland Security policy chief and author of a forthcoming memoir, "Skating on Stilts." "I’d put all of those things in the category of course corrections based on new data, perhaps made easier because this administration had not started the projects and so it could declare them failures without taking blame for the failure."
Napolitano aides say they don’t blame their predecessors, who were under intense pressure to prevent another terrorist attack, for attempting fixes that ultimately didn’t pan out. But outside analysts say the failures were the predictable result of an agency with too little experience at making major purchases and of contractors peddling untested products.
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