GOP Conflicted Over Decision to Freeze Funding on Virtual Border Fence

Though a host of technical glitches has undermined the effectiveness of a virtual fence securing the U.S. border, Republicans who are tough on border security appear conflicted by the Homeland Security Department's decision to divert cash away from the multibillion-dollar program.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Tuesday that she will freeze all funds to expand the virtual fence program along the U.S. border with Mexico, Instead, she said, $50 million in stimulus money will be redirected to commercially available security technology, like remote video surveillance and mobile radios, cameras and laptops.

"Not only do we have an obligation to secure our borders, we have a responsibility to do so in the most cost effective way possible," Napolitano said in a press release. "The system of sensors and cameras along the Southwest border known as SBInet has been plagued with cost overruns and missed deadlines."

But some Republicans, including Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky, claim Napolitano is scrapping one plan without instituting another.

"I’m all for securing our border, but haphazardly pulling the rug out from underneath SBINet to fund some other unplanned projects suggests were back to throwing money at problems, not relying on strategic decisions on utilizing the taxpayers’ money," said Rogers, ranking member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security.

"I want to know what she plans to replace the program with," Rogers said in an interview with FoxNews.com on Wednesday. "She stopped this funding without notifying Congress, who appropriates the funds, with what she plans to do."

The virtual fence, unveiled by the Bush administration in November 2005 and known within the government as SBInet, was  intended to monitor most of the 2,000-mile southern U.S. border by 2011; it currently covers only a portion of Arizona's boundary with Mexico.

The multibillion-dollar project, built by The Boeing Co., deployed a network of cameras, ground sensors and radar systems designed to let a small number of dispatchers watch the border on a computer monitor, zoom in with cameras to see people crossing and decide whether to send Border Patrol agents to the scene.

But technical glitches and delays have cast doubt on SBInet's effectiveness. The radar system, for example, had trouble distinguishing between vegetation and people when the weather was windy, and the satellite communication system took too long to relay information in the field to a command center.

Two months ago, Napolitano ordered a reassessment of the project. The House Homeland Security Committee will assess the program when it convenes on Thursday, and a GAO report expected later this week will review the cost and feasibility of the project that has so far cost the government $672 million.

William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, called the project "as dumb as a virtual prison or virtual fence around the White House."

But some lawmakers say they aren't giving up on the concept, especially in light of escalating drug-related violence along the Mexican border.

Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., who advocates a virtual fence, said he's withholding judgment on Napolitano's decision until he and other Republicans on the committee meet with her early Thursday.

"I am aware of the fact that Boeing has had some difficulties in bringing this program together -- I don't think there's any doubt about that," Lungren said in an interview with FoxNews.com. "If what she is doing is saying we need to take a breath here and look at this, I don’t have a problem with that so long as it is not 'fait accompli.'"

Republican Sen. John McCain, meanwhile, has applauded Napolitano's decision, saying he was pleased that the homeland security secretary "has decided to instead turn to commercial available technology that can be used to immediately secure our border from illegal entries. I have been calling for congressional oversight and administrative action on this issue since it became clear that SBInet was a complete failure."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.