Senators blast border security efforts

Lieberman calls for Obama to drop virtual fencing contract.

Key senators Tuesday expressed outrage that U.S. border security efforts are falling short, with Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., suggesting the Obama administration terminate a multibillion-dollar virtual fencing contract and build more reinforced physical fencing along the Southwest border.

In a bipartisan fashion, senators ripped into the Homeland Security Department's troubled SBInet virtual fencing program, which has been beset by technical problems and schedule delays.

"This thing needs to be shaken up," Lieberman told U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin during a hearing.

Lieberman told Bersin to either terminate the SBInet contract with prime contractor Boeing Co. or fix the problems. The department has spent nearly $800 million to date on the project, which has yet to yield a fully operational system.

"From the very beginning of SBInet, CBP's reports to Congress read like a quest to find that mystical point where parallel lines finally meet - it's always just over the horizon but you never actually get there," Lieberman said.

Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., called for an investigation into the how the contract was awarded and why it has yet to produce an operational system. "Taxpayers do not have unlimited pockets for Boeing or any other company," he said.

Bersin said he could not give a legal judgment on whether the contract should be terminated.

Bersin said one option the department is considering is salvaging some technology components of SBInet that could be used along the border. He urged the committee to work with the department on that front.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who filled in as ranking member during the hearing, called for the administration to build more double- and triple-layered fencing along the border with Mexico.

McCain noted that he and Senate Minority Whip John Kyl, R-Ariz., announced a 10-point action plan Monday that called for more physical fencing, along with the deployment of 3,000 National Guard troops and round-the-clock drone flights along the border.

Notably, Lieberman, who backed McCain in the 2008 presidential race, said building additional fences might be the best solution. Lieberman also called on Bersin to give the McCain-Kyl action plan serious consideration.

Lieberman and McCain said they were also worried that drug cartels in Mexico have shifted their tactics and are beginning to target U.S. citizens, both in Mexico and the United States. Lieberman expressed concern that drug smugglers might begin using improvised explosive devices against U.S. citizens.

Bersin said lawmakers should be concerned, adding: "We need to take the possibility and the threat very seriously and we do."

The comments expressed at the hearing reflect rising concerns among border state lawmakers. On Friday, nine House Democrats sent a letter to their leadership asking for hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency border security funds to be included in the upcoming war-related supplemental spending package.

"We are at a tipping point," said House Homeland Security Border Subcommittee Chairman Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, who signed onto the letter. "Either we immediately send additional resources to our border or we wait and watch the violence unfold across the Rio Grande. Our options are clear and we need Congress to move."

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