GAO: Are Millions Spent On Military At Border Worth It?

An Army National Guard soldier works as a member of an entry identification team watching the U.S.-Mexico border near Nogales, Ariz., during Operation Jump Start on Jan. 17, 2007. (Photo by Sgt. Jim Greenhill, National Guard Bureau)
September 15, 2011

TUCSON, Ariz. -- It cost a total $1.35 billion dollars the two times the National Guard was sent to the U.S.-Mexico border to help the U.S. Border Patrol. A new audit by the investigative arm of Congress questions whether it’s worth the cost.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report saying that the United States military’s efforts on the Mexican border haven’t been managed efficiently, despite the millions of dollars spent.

The report comes just days after the Pentagon agreed to extend the Guard’s presence for another three months. There are 1,100 soldiers working on the border.

Davi D’Agostino is a director at the GAO’s Defense capabilities management team and performed the audit. She identified some inefficiencies with the current strategy.

Soldiers have to operate in pairs and they can only identify people; they cannot make an arrest. That has been the protocol since 2006 when Operation Jump Start began and in 2010 when Operation Phalanx started.

“And so basically, when they’re down there, it takes three people to do the job that normally takes one Border Patrol agent,” D’Agostino said.

The GAO fielded several complaints.

First, Department of Defense officials were concerned that there is no comprehensive southwest border strategy and they worry about "mission creep."

Meanwhile, diplomats at the Department of State worry about the perception of a militarized border.

The GAO found that since May 2011, the National Guard helped in the arrest of 6 percent of illegal immigrants crossing the border and less than 3 percent of marijuana seized on the border.