For companies selling surveillance drones, night-vision cameras, and high-fidelity communications equipment, the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency appear to offer a big-league opportunity. These are the tools of the border-security trade, and at the industry’s annual trade show this month, there was good reason to expect a dramatic increase in sales.
First, Trump campaigned on the promise to spend billions of dollars erecting a concrete wall along the length of the U.S.-Mexico border. After taking office, the new president proposed a federal budget that would cut spending on at least 80 programs—everything from childhood literacy to subsidies helping low-income households pay for heat—to increase funding for defense agencies.
Trump’s 2018 budget proposal requests $44 billion for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, a 6.8 percent increase from the previous year. That includes $3 billion in additional funding for Customs and Border Protection, according to reports.
Even before that boost in government spending reaches the private sector, the agency’s current budget had plenty of prizes to tempt security contractors. The 2017 budget proposal for Customs and Border Protection, put forth by Obama appointee Jeh Johnson, called for $14 billion in funding, including (PDF) $64 million for vehicles, $51 million to acquire a pair of enforcement aircraft, and $12 million for Tasers, M4 rifles, and pistol-mounted night sights to help agents aim in the dark.
And so the vendors came to San Antonio in April for Border Security Expo, an annual trade show attended by companies hoping to sell the government all-terrain vehicles, facial-recognition software, and secure wireless networks.
Some of the companies have sold equipment to CBP in the past. Flir Systems, based in Wilsonville, Ore., brought a rugged all-terrain vehicle equipped with thermal imaging to San Antonio. Elbit Systems of America, a Fort Worth-based subsidiary of an Israeli defense contractor, exhibited communications and surveillance technology, including a small, battery-powered drone.
Additional vendors have previously sold to other federal agencies and were hoping that the new focus on border security would create new chances. The goods and services on offer also included high-tech guard towers, tactical command centers equipped with beds for long-term assignments, and, of course, firearms. The final day of the three-day exhibition was held at a local firing range.