A 28-mile prototype virtual fence built by Boeing Co. and designed to thwart illegal immigration along the Mexico/U.S. border hasn't met border control agents' needs, the Government Accountability Office reported. However, the federal government has no plans to end the program as recently reported by the mainstream press, said Laura Keehner, spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security.

“It would be wrong to conclude that the federal government is scrapping the virtual fence,” she said.

The project uses a series of electronic wireless devices to detect movement along the 28-mile stretch near Tucson, Ariz. The long-term goal is to secure the nation's northern and southern borders over the next five to six years using a mix of technology, infrastructure and human resources. The GAO said the project's main shortcoming right now is the lapse time between the electronic detection of individuals illegally crossing the border and the data reaching handheld devices and mission-control systems used by border-control personnel.

Wayne Esser, Boeing's director of strategic development for the Secure Border Initiative program that developed the fence, said the $20 million prototype uses off-the-shelf hardware and software to track illegal immigration activities. It currently consists of communication technologies that include sensors and radar systems housed on a series of mobile towers. The data then are transmitted over a restricted wireless network to border-control agents, he said.

Early on in the prototype phase, the company ran into operator interface and timing performance issues, where lapses in communications affected the speed at which data traveled over the system.

“Part of the problem was that the [technologies] were put in on a temporary basis, and so we didn't put up the full communications system. We used a slower satellite system because of the costs and timing. … We would not have been able to meet the schedule if we tried to put up the full system,” Esser said.