How Unaccountable Private Contractors Pocket Your Tax Dollars Militarizing the Texas Border
By Tom Barry
Steven McCraw, in his dual position as Homeland Security chief and director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, is the state’s point person for what he calls the “Texas paradigm” for border security. Governor Rick Perry tells President Obama and DHS Secretary Napolitano that the federal government should be emulating the “Texas border security model.”
Whether thought of as a model or paradigm, most of its features, like fusion and intelligence centers or collaborative law enforcement surges and unified commands, are not original constructs, but borrowed directly from DHS or the military.
The credibility of the “Texas” brand of this border security model also suffers from the wholesale outsourcing involved in the formulating and operating of most of its components. Starting in 2004, the governor’s office and later DPS began contracting private firms and corporations to supervise the new border security campaign. While technically directed by state officials, virtually all components of the Texas border-security and crime-fighting models were outsourced to such firms as Northrop Grumman, APPRISS, and Abrams Learning and Information Systems (ALIS).
The master model builder of Border Star is Abrams Learning & Information Systems (ALIS), a Washington Beltway homeland security consulting firm created by retired U.S. Army General John Abrams to take advantage of the boom in homeland security contracting following the 2003 creation of DHS. For the past several years, ALIS has been contracted by DPS to “refine plans and strategies for seamless integration of border security operations.” ALIS has been charged with directing, coordinating, operating, and staffing the state’s border security infrastructure – the Border Security Operation Center, TX Crime Mapping project, and the six Joint Operations Intelligence Centers.
As part of its contract to “sustain continuous border security operations” for the state, ALIS receives multimillion contracts to formulate the state’s Texas Border Security Campaign Plan, 2010-2015 Homeland Security Strategy Plan, as well as the TEXDPS Agency Strategy Plan 2010.
Steeped in military practice and thinking, the ALIS senior leadership have brought this military tradition to the challenges of homeland security and border control in Texas. This can be readily seen in its work for the governor’s office and DPS through its favoring the military terminology and structures -- “unified commands,” “operations ,” “”ranger recons,” intelligence centers,” “forward deployment,” and “surges” Like the military, the military-styled Operation Border Star has little transparency or accountability, and the battles are always being declared victories despite the absence of measurable indicators.
Despite the hundreds of millions dollars spent for state-initiated border-security operations, neither the governor nor Steve McCraw has provided documentation of the impact of Border Star. The Department of Public Safety has denied public-records requests (from the author) for the department’s border security plan and for the monthly progress reports from its border security operations among other documents referenced in the state’s contract with ALIS.
Citing the lack of accomplishments, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson called Border Star “a boondoggle” because of its failure to make significant arrests, while the Texas ACLU has charged that Border Star had “wasted millions” and created a vast regional network of unaccountable fusion and intelligence centers while misdirecting public safety resources for largely political projects.
A Texas Model Paid for by Washington
What’s most ingenious – unabashedly devious, really – about the Texas model of border security is its purported made-in-Texas identity.
Any review beyond the bluster of Perry’s campaign ads and regular pronouncements about Border Star and the Texas model will reveal it be largely a big government dependency with respect to its funding. What is more, the innovations claimed by its leading voice, Steven McCraw, are mostly replicates of the fusion centers, multiagency task forces, unified commands, joint federal-local patrolling, operational surges, and outsourcing contracts that clog the border security bureaucracy of the Department of Homeland Security.
Border Star, like the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition, has been built on a foundation of federal funding.
Starting in 2006 Governor Perry began channeling DOJ criminal justice grants received by his office to the border security operations of the Texas border sheriffs, including new multiagency drug task forces, highway checkpoints, and operations targeting illegal border crossers. Although highly critical of the stimulus bill, Governor Perry quietly channeled $39.5 million in stimulus funding from DOJ to Border Star.
Since 2004 the Office of the Governor in Austin has also counted on annual injections from the Department of Homeland Security that have underwritten the establishment of the governor’s Homeland Security Office and its own granting program. In addition to the annual homeland security grants, DHS since 2006 has annually granted border security-specific grants to the government’s office, which have been redistributed to the TBSC and its members for their Operation Linebacker and Operation Border Star activities.
It was not until the 2008 state budgeting process that TBSC, Operation Linebacker, and Operation Border Star began receiving smaller proportions of state-generated funds for the Texas model of border security.
The dependency on federal government funding is especially deep in the Office of the Governor, where only 20-25 percent of the governor’s funding for criminal justice programs (which since 2006 have been increasingly directed to Border Star and related projects, such as drug task forces) comes from Texas-generated revenues while the rest comes from Washington.
At the same time he was using federal stimulus funding to cover more than $8 million in overtime payments to border deputies and $1.6 billion for border video and other surveillance (including the border sheriffs’ own Border Watch program that is dependent on “virtual deputies” that click on to the coalition’s website), Perry regarded extended unemployment benefits as example of “Texas making the right decisions” and avoiding “federal strings” that will cost Texas employers.
In matters of homeland security and border security, Governor Perry not only insists on greater federal resources he also has successfully advocated for complementary new state spending to secure the border. In an attempt to balance the new state budget (2012-13), Perry supported a $15 billion decrease in spending, including at least $5 billion in the education budget. Yet the governor easily won the support of the Republican legislature for a doubling of revenues to about $100 million annually to help finance his Texas border security model, insisting in his January “state of the state” address that Texas should continue “our investment in border security.”
Copyright 2011 AlterNet. Original article available here.