NPR Story
4:18 am
Wed March 13, 2013

Border Vendors, But No Border Buyers

PHOENIX — The annual Border Security Expo in Phoenix opened Tuesday. It’s an event meant to showcase the latest technologies for sale to border agencies. But one huge element was missing: federal buyers.

Wyatt Nease had brought the Pointman. It's a squat, very tough, wheeled remote-controlled robot designed to go into harm’s way. Nease, with Applied Research Associates, explains.

"We can climb stairs. We can climb anything about a foot high vertically. You can throw it through windows, throw it through doors," he said.

His potential customers today were mostly local police officers, detectives, and SWAT units, not the Homeland Security officials he had hoped to meet. They canceled at the last minute, citing sequester cuts.

Art Kreutz with Radiance Technologies, Inc., was selling a platform designed to stop a car. The concept is simple: a car being chased runs over the platform, someone pulls a switch, a 150,000 volt pulse kills the engine. He was hoping to sell them to the U.S. Border Patrol for those long Arizona border highways and to port officials. But again, no federal buyers.

"It is very frustrating and it’s definitely going to impact all the companies at this expo and it’s a shame that we can’t get what we need out in the field so it can do its job," Kreutz said.

Other vendors were more optimistic. Nina Bookout is with Integrity Ballistics. The company was selling a plastic rifle round designed to pancake out and knock a person to the ground without killing them. They’re a new company and had hoped to interest Homeland Security.

"But in terms of the future, what we hope is that cooler heads will prevail and realize that these agencies fill a very great and very specific need which is security, which is public safety,” she said.

Homeland Security is facing $2.7 billion dollars in sequester cuts, roughly, five percent of its discretionary budget. As as one Border Patrol official at the expo half-joked, his government credit card was gone. He said he couldn’t buy anything even if he wanted to.

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