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Technology

We Need a Kinky X Prize

DiscoblogBy Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)September 19, 2006 10:00 PM

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The Washington Post reports on the mad scramble among big companies to get a few billion dollars from the Department of Homeland Security to watch the U.S.-Mexico border and prevent illegal immigration. It seems DHS will soon decide between the players, each of which offers up its own we've-got-the-hammer-for-this-nail solution: Northrup-Grumman's got drones, Ericsson has PDAs, and Lockheed Martin's boasting (yes) blimps.

It wouldn't take a cynic to think that in 20 years this might be a cautionary example studied in intro-government classes around the country -- literally a textbook boondoggle. ("It's a little bit scary when the government throws up its hands and says, 'We have no idea how to do this. Please tell us,'" Deborah W. Meyers with the Migration Policy Institute tells the Post.)

Couldn't the federal government learn from recent lessons about better ways to spend money on hard-to-plan projects? When the X Prize made NASA look dumb by showing how prize money was worth more than government pork, NASA launched its own prize program, Centennial Challenges. Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman proposed (facetiously, I think) tasking each of five Mexican generals with a chunk of the border, setting each up with a plush retirement fund, and deducting $5,000 from a general's account for every illegal immigrant that scores within his goal.

How about combining the best parts of these two ideas: DHS could fund every solid proposal enough to cover a part of the border for the duration of a trial period. The one that does the best during the trial wins the whole dang border. Down with pork barrels, up with evidence-based funding.

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