Image: Border fence
David McNew  /  Getty Images
A Border Patrol vehicle monitors an area along a recently constructed section of the U.S.-Mexico border fence between Yuma, Ariz., and Calexico, Calif.
updated 9/17/2009 3:45:24 PM ET 2009-09-17T19:45:24

It will cost taxpayers $6.5 billion over the next 20 years to maintain the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a government audit.

But as the Obama administration realizes the long-term costs of the border fence, it does not have a way to evaluate whether this investment has helped control illegal entries into the country, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Thursday.

The $6.5 billion price tag is in addition to the $2.4 billion that's been spent to build more than 600 miles of fence segments along the southwest border. As of May 14, there have been 3,363 breaches in the fence, which cost about $1,300 each to repair, GAO found.

The fence is a Bush administration initiative that has faced several delays and cost increases.

The technology portion of the government's plan to secure the border continues to be delayed, GAO said.

Until the entire technology piece is complete, it is impossible for Border Patrol to know if the security measures are working, GAO said.

Boeing Co. has the contract for the technology piece. Tim Peters, Boeing's vice president of global security, told lawmakers that the company has learned valuable lessons from its initial projects on the border. Peters said it's not "uncommon" to run into technological challenges in these sort of projects.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, called the fence a "serious challenge" that the Obama administration has inherited. In remarks prepared for a hearing Thursday, the Mississippi Democrat said the GAO's findings are troubling.

Depending on funding, there would be fencing or technology along the whole southwestern border except for about 200 miles around Big Bend National Park by 2014, Homeland Security officials have said. But the GAO said it's more likely to be completed in 2016.

On Thursday officials told Congress that the remaining 38 miles of physical fencing is held up because of legal issues related to obtaining land.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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