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Border surveillance program is shut down, GAO says Homeland Security initiative was lagging

The Government Accountability Office says the Department of Homeland Security has shut down a proposed border surveillance program because it was so far behind schedule.

A GAO report on snags in the "America's Shield Initiative" said the Homeland Security Department after nearly two years had defined responsibilities for only three of 30 people the department hired to manage the initiative.

The GAO study, said Rep. Brian M. Higgins, D-Buffalo, "gives further pause on the government's ability to implement an entirely new program by 2008 -- especially since they haven't even developed any specifics yet to share with Congress."

Higgins referred to the government's proposal to require a passport or passportlike card to cross the Canadian border by 2008.

"This is further evidence that the travel initiative is wrong for U.S.-Canada relations and wrong for border communities like Buffalo," Higgins said.

"We need to properly protect our borders, and not by devastating local economies and creating economic barriers with our friends to the north," he said.

The America's Shield Initiative, proposed by the Bush administration in 2004, was to have used sensors, cameras and databases with the goal of catching suspected terrorists and illegal immigrants trying to cross the Canadian and Mexican borders.

The GAO, which serves as the investigative arm of Congress, said the Homeland Security Department also failed to outline how the initiative would buy equipment and services or plan projects.

It was the second time this month that the GAO cited the Homeland Security Department for serious flaws in its border-protection programs. Two weeks ago, the GAO said a 7-year-old project called US-VISIT that would employ biometric eye scans and handprints was not even tested.

In the new study, the GAO says that the America's Shield Initiative has been closed down and that its elements would be integrated with another Homeland Security Department program, the "Secure Border Initiative."

The Homeland Security Department has described the Secure Border Initiative as a plan to secure the borders and reduce illegal immigration, using technology and "unmanned aerial vehicles and next-generation detection technology."

The department had no immediate comment on the new GAO report.


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