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Border spending bill cuts $100 million from SBInet

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Tactical communications along the southwest border gained a funding boost with President Obama's August 13 signing of a $600 million supplemental spending border security bill--a boost paid for in part with a decrease in SBInet funding.

In a statement accompanying his Friday signing of the bill, Obama said the extra spending will be offset by canceling $100 million from the SBInet program, with the remainder coming from an increase in application fees paid by companies seeking U.S. work visas for foreign citizens.

The bill directs $14 million toward "designing, building and deploying tactical communications" for Southwest border enforcement and $32 million for the deployment of two new unmanned aircraft vehicles to surveil the area. All the money allocated by the bill must be spent by Sept 30, 2011, except for the UAV funds, which will be available until Sept 30, 2012.

The $100 million of canceled SBInet funding is just the latest sign that the troubled program is dying a slow death. SBInet is a Homeland Security Department effort to blanket U.S. borders with a chain of radars, cameras, and heat and motion detectors, allowing border patrol agents working from a common operational picture. SBInet has cost $1.9 billion so far, or 564 percent more than the initial projected cost, according to the Government Accountability Office. The prime contractor is Boeing (NYSE: BA).

New work on the program has been halted since DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano's March announcement that the department froze additional funding for anything beyond already begun initial deployments along 53 mile stretch of Arizona border. The fate of the project hinges in great measure on a review Napolitano initiated in January; that assessment is scheduled for completion by Sept. 30.

The largest chunk of money in the supplemental spending bill is $253.9 million for Customs and Border Protection salaries and expenses, including $204.9 million for hiring additional agents in ports of entry and along the southwest border. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also gains an additional $50 million for new personnel.

Those new agents will be joined by a surge of federal law enforcement officials and an additional 1,200 National Guard troops, according to Obama's signing statement. The Justice Department gets $196 million from the spending bill.

Congress approved the spending bill with unusual alacrity and bipartisanship; after it's official August 9 introduction into the House of Representatives, the bill gained that chamber's approval on August 10 with a voice vote. The Senate then approved it by unanimous consent on August 12.

For more:
- go to the THOMAS page for the supplemental spending bill (now law), H.R. 6080
- read President Obama's signing statement

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