Amid much fanfare in 2006 then President George W. Bush deployed several thousand National Guard in order to bring “operational control” to illegal immigration, drug smuggling, and international terrorists. Just as the Congressional elections were ramping up, both Republicans and Democrats were each struggling to outdo each other on national security. Votes were at stake. The move by President Bush was in reaction to a real shortage of Border Patrol agents, according to the rhetoric; the National Guard would only be in place along the border for a year.
Along with the deployment of National Guard, Congress also passed a series of bills in lieu of a comprehensive immigration policy demanded by border state. Among these bills was the authority for the Department of Homeland Security to build a border fence, including a high tech, “virtual wall”; Boeing, Inc., won the contract for the virtual wall and eventually was paid more than $1 billion in construction costs for a boondoggle project than never functioned as designed.
Little mention was made at the time of the cost of deployment of the National Guard to the border and few cost accountings have been made public since that time. President Obama continued the exact same deployment policy initiated by Bush, actually adding National Guard last year to the Nogales, Arizona sector and South Texas.
Now the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that the total check for these deployments is $1.35 billion under Presidents Bush and Obama. Further, 300 Guardsmen will still be maintained at the Mexican border through 2012.
What is alarming about all this is the lack of fiscal oversight and responsibility. At the incredible cost of $1.35 billion two presidents stationed a few thousand National Guard at the border when hiring additional Border Patrol agents would have been both less expensive and more effective. It should be noted that the National Guard are not trained as border guards, they are trained as professional soldiers. While undoubtedly these members of the National Guard served to the best of their abilities, they had no experience in immigration laws regarding undocumented immigrants, drug interdiction, and community policing, all skills that the Border Patrol agents are required to learn at the Border Patrol academy. And did all the Guardsmen speak Spanish?
Just what did the National Guardsmen do at the Mexican border? While certainly these skilled soldiers helped the Border Patrol to the best of their abilities, we have no independent evaluations or reports of their contributions since they were originally deployed in 2006.
The public also has no cost accounting that would compare how much money is required to keep a National Guardsman at the border in comparison to hiring additional Border Patrol agents.
The fact is that the presidential deployment of the National Guard was a poorly planned, stopgap measure that began in 2006 and continues to this day. No one questions the motivation or talents of the National Guard, but their job performance and efficiency are absent from the public record. So too is a specific accounting of the cost efficiency of this deployment now totaling $1.35 billion according to the GAO. The bill for 2012 is projected to be another $60 million.
Where is the Congressional oversight of these federal funds and where are the independent evaluations by researchers that would suggest the deployment of the National Guard was anything but political posturing to win votes? For both parties.
AP, “National Guard Troops At Mexico Border Cut To Fewer Than 300″, AP, 12/20/11.
Homeland Security News Wire, “DHS to Drawdown Troops Along U.S.-Mexico Border”, 12/28/11.