Sunday, October 24, 2010

Outsourcing Texas Border Security

(First in a BorderLines series on border security outsourcing.)

“Until Washington gets serious, Texas will fight to make our border safe.”  That’s how Governor Rick Perry concludes his “Securing Our Future” campaign ad promoting his border security plan.

But what Perry isn’t saying is that the fundamentals – strategy, planning, coordination, intelligence – of the Texas border security strategy have been outsourced to a Washington Beltway consulting firm. The Arlington, Virginia company, Abrams Learning & Information Systems (ALIS), is responsible not only for formulating the Texas Border Security Campaign Plan but also the state’s Homeland Security Strategy Statement as well as the strategic plan of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).

Together with his Homeland Security chief and DPS director Steve McCraw, Perry boasts that Texas is constructing a border security “model” and “paradigm” for border security called Border Star that other border states and the federal government itself should adopt.  In his campaign aid, Perry said he “confronted Barack Obama with detailed steps to reduce drug cartel violence along our border.”  Earlier in 2010 Perry wrote to Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), inviting her to visit Texas “to observe Operation Border Star so that you might consider this approach as a national model to increase border security.”

But the federal government hasn’t taken Perry up on his offers. Like his counterpart in Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer, Perry says that President Obama is indifferent to border security. “I don’t think he cares,” Perry told the conservative magazine Human Events. Although apparently he has not withdrawn his February invitation to Napolitano, Perry more recently has said the DHS secretary is “arrogant” and “hypocritical.”

Border security is one of the main issues driving the election debate in Texas as well as in Arizona, New Mexico, and California.  Along the border, the debate usually pits local and state politicians and law enforcement officials against the federal government – with the federal government saying that it is doing more than ever to “secure the border” with regional figures like Perry contending that Washington isn’t doing enough to meet its responsibility, thereby obligating border states to step into the breach.

Clearly, there are many questions about how effective the federal government is to border security, given the continuing flows of illegal immigrants and drugs across the border. But few questions are being asked about just how effective are the border security strategies and operations undertaken by border states and border sheriffs.  Nor do these local border enforcers make clear just where the money is coming from to formulate these strategies and mount these operations.

What is the Texas border security model, where does it come from, and who pays for it?
The key player in the Texas border security model is a name that never appears in the governor’s stream of press releases and campaign ads about border security or in the get-tough pronouncements of Col Steve McCraw.  Just about the only place that the name of the model-builder for Texas border security appears on the public record is in outsourcing contracts that DPS has entered into with ALIS – the Beltway firm established in mid-2004 by General John W. Abrams and which now boasts as being a “recognized leader in homeland security.”

Over the past three years, under the directorship of Steve McCraw, DPS has spent nearly $20 million in state and federal funds in continuing contracts with ALIS to “refine plans and strategies for seamless integration of border security operations in the State of Texas.” Not only does ALIS formulate the state’s border security model, it has also been charged with coordinating and overseeing many of the Border Star operations, including the “Unified Commands.

The centerpiece of the state’s border security operations is intelligence-driven operations that are managed by the Border Security Operations Center (BSOC) in Austin and six Joint Operations Information Centers (JOICS) along the border. ALIS provides the program manager, analysts, technicians, and information specialists for BSOC and JOICs.

(Tomorrow: More on ALIS and its border security responsibilities.)

For related analysis and reporting, see: At War in Texas in Boston Review, at:

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