Cut and Run at the Department of Homeland Security

With all the Bush Administration bluster about border security, you'd think that keeping track of the comings and goings of non-citizens might be a high priority. But given that FEMA -- which is supposed to be taking care of our own citizens -- can't even develop a computer program to track whether Katrina victims are getting housing assistance, should it be surprising that the Department of Homeland Security has squandered over a billion dollars on the U.S. VISIT program, and then decided to scrap a major part of it?

But that's par for the course for DHS, which bleeds over $10 billion to government contractors a year, when a lot of them just take the money and run. That is, they start the project, and then they throw up their hands and say it can't be done. Screw the public, which is footing the bill without a money-back guarantee. Even if the project is a "top priority", as DHS claims U.S. VISIT is.

DHS has decided that it's just too complicated and expensive to develop the technology to track who's leaving the country (and, in the case of people overstaying their visas, who's not). Now I'm no anti-immigration nut and am certainly not a fan of the biometric technology, like the facial, fingerprint or iris recognition techology that was under consideration for the U.S. VISIT program. But this story really isn't about border security. It's about corruption and our broken government.

Years ago, when U.S. VISIT was first put out to bid, technology experts decried its open-ended contract requirements and its $10 billion price tag (that over 10 years), given that everyone knew the technology just wasn't there to perform magical screenings of eyeballs and cheekbones on such a large scale. Ignoring those protests, the government went ahead and awarded the contract anyway. To an American contractor, Accenture, which is headquartered in Bermuda. So a company which evades paying U.S. income taxes would get paid billions of dollars to track people here illegally. Nothing like having an expert on skirting the law watching out for people who might be skirting the law.

But of course Accenture didn't get the contract because it had a miracle technological fix. It got the contract because it had a well-connected lobbyist and the company and its well-connected lobbyist gave lots of money to politicians. So while a lot of people benefit from legalized bribery and graft -- the lobbyist who got paid by the company, the politicians who got campaign contributions from the company and its lobbyist, and finally, the company that got paid for deciding that the work was too hard -- the Administration got to crow about how it was keeping us safe from illegal immigrants. But in the end, the Administration and its corporate cronies just cut and run.


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