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Verify: Shutdown draws questions on border fence, Terminal B closures and government pay

As the shutdown drags on, questions are rolling in about border security, air travel and government pay.

As the federal government shutdown drags on, many KHOU viewers have questions relating to issues impacting or impacted by the stalemate.

BORDER SECURITY:

“President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act of 2006 into law ‘approved $50 Billion for the wall’. WHERE IS THAT MONEY?” – Viewer email

To answer that question, KHOU used the White House and the U.S. Government Accountability Office as sources.

White House archives show that 2006 law gave the federal government the green light to build hundreds of miles of extra fencing along the Southern border, plus vehicle barriers, checkpoints, lighting and technology.

A Boston Globe report states, “Congress put aside $1.4 billion for the fence, but the whole cost, including maintenance, was pegged at $50 billion over 25 years, according to analyses at the time.”

On Monday, KHOU dug into a GAO Report from February 2017 looking at the impact of that law.

It shows between 2007 to 2015, Customs and Border Protection spent around $2.4 billion on fencing, lighting, and other infrastructure along the U.S.-Mexico border, plus nearly half a billion dollars on maintenance and operations.

That boosted the total range of border fencing to 654 miles, up from 119 miles in 2005.

While the report says CBP did not provide a current estimate for how much it’d cost to keep up the fencing over its life cycle, in 2009 that agency had estimated that cost at more than $1 billion over 20 years.

The report also states the agency estimated it would next to spend more than $3.5 billion in that same 20-year period on tactical infrastructure (TI) operations and maintenance to “sustain these investments.” TI includes fencing, gates, roads, bridges, lighting, and drainage infrastructure.

KHOU can verify while that’s a lot of money, it’s nowhere near $50 billion.

AIRPORT SECURITY CLOSURES:

“I have learned from a friend that travels a lot that Terminal B at IAH is not always open when the government is up and running. It regularly is closed on Sunday’s (sic). On other days it is hit or miss.” – Kathy G., Facebook visitor.

In response to this post, KHOU reached out to Bill Begley, a spokesperson for the Houston Airport System.

After double-checking with his operations staff, Begley told KHOU if all departing flights have left, the checkpoints will close. However, Begley said when flights are still leaving, airport officials will leave the checkpoints open.

An official with United, which runs its United Express flights out of Terminal B, told KHOU that although Saturday and Sunday may have lighter schedules with earlier final flights, the airline runs a “pretty consistent schedule” and works with TSA on what resources are needed.

That United official also says while Terminal B’s security checkpoint is typically open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., checkpoints in other terminals stay open later and can be used by Terminal B passengers.

GOVERNMENT WORKER PAY:

“Most employees make over 100,000 (dollars) a year. (I’m) sure they have food in the (refrigerator). They will get their money.” – Barb M.

While that’s certainly true for some federal employees, many others earn less. Records from the Bureau of Labor Statistic shows that the typical TSA agent in the Houston area earns on average just under $45,000 per year.

The Office of Personnel Management lists the average annual base salary (adjusted to include locality pay) for full-time permanents nationwide at $84,913.

Congress passed a bill Friday granting back pay to furloughed federal workers and those forced to work without pay during the shutdown. So, while it is true that those workers will eventually get their money, the big unknown is when that will be.

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