Government Bytes


VA Senate Race: Border Security Costs Uncertain

by Michael Tasselmyer / /

A popular theme throughout this election season has been the security of our nation’s borders. In Virginia's U.S. Senate race, former Senator George Allen has stated that "...our first priority needs to be securing our borders." His challenger, former Governor Tim Kaine, has said that "...we must have a strong and secure border."

Unfortunately, both candidates in Virginia have been vague regarding how they intend to achieve this goal. For the sake of attaining a general grasp of how they might affect our wallets, we can take a look at the budgetary effects of some common border security measures policymakers have proposed during such discussions. Note: NTUF does not endorse any position or candidate.

Additional Law Enforcement

One way to presumably "secure the border" is to simply put more law enforcement officials there. In the 110th Congress, the House introduced H.R. 4088, the Secure America through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act of 2007. It was reintroduced in the 112th Congress as H.R. 2000. Part of the original bill called for an additional 5,000 full-time border patrol agents. The Congressional Budget Office estimated those additional personnel demands would cost $2.276 billion over five years, or $455 million annually. Adjusted for inflation, that annual amount would be closer to $508 million today.

Also in 2007, CBO reported that it costs between $120,000-180,000 per year for each additional border patrol agent, including the cost of salaries, benefits, training, equipment, and support.

It's unclear to what extent Kaine or Allen would support these measures, if at all.

Border Fencing

Another way to secure the border is to, quite literally, draw a line in the sand and build a fence around it. A 2009 report from the GAO stated the target length for the border fence was 661 miles. According to a February 2012 Customs and Border Protection update, 651 miles of fence had been constructed. The cost of additional fencing would depend on the materials used, and whether Kaine or Allen would expand the fence to reach the initial target of 661 miles or extend it up to the entire 1,993-mile border.

According to the GAO report, fencing completed by October 2008 cost an average of $3.9 million per mile for pedestrian fencing and $1.0 million per mile for vehicle fencing. The report also notes, "However, once contracts were awarded, the average per mile costs had increased to $6.5 million per mile for pedestrian fencing and $1.8 million per mile for vehicle fencing … the per mile costs increased over time due to various factors, such as property acquisition costs incurred for these miles that were not a factor for many of the previous miles and costs for labor and materials increased."

Drones & "Virtual" Fences

Developments in unmanned aircraft technology have lead to their increasing application in patrolling and safeguarding. As of August 2012, U.S. Customs and Border Protection was operating seven MQ-9 Reaper (formerly, Predator B) surveillance drones; five were in the Southwest region. According to the Department of Defense's latest Selected Acquisition Report (from December 2011), 404 MQ-9 drones would cost $11.54 billion in 2008 dollars (including ground control and maintenance equipment), which comes to an individual cost of almost $31 million per drone after adjusting for inflation. Depending on how extensively candidates would modify existing drone patrol resources, the associated costs or savings could be substantial.

Worth noting is a May 2012 report from the DHS Office of Inspector General that suggests a lack of human and financial resources has hampered the use of already existing CBP drones.

In addition to drones, the Department of Homeland Security has tried to implement other surveillance technology such as thermal imaging systems, motion detectors, and long-range cameras as part of a "virtual fence." Expansion of the SBInet system, as it was referred to at conception in 2006, was cancelled in January 2011 due to its high cost. When expansion stopped, over $1 billion had been spent on 53 of the 1,993 miles of land that make up the border. Costs to expand the virtual fence would depend on the nature of the technology used, and how extensive the expansion would be.

When it comes to how much they would spend on border security, neither candidate in Virginia has offered enough detail to draw any definitive conclusions. Nevertheless, taxpayers can expect the issue to present significant fiscal implications going forward.

Be sure to check out NTUF’s Virginia candidate studies for more:

Spending Analysis: George Allen

Spending Analysis: Tim Kaine