Few U.S. agencies have a bigger job than the Immigration and Naturalization Service. A few hundred border guards and agents must patrol 6,000 miles of frontier, staff airports, and deal with millions of aliens and visitors, both legal and illegal, as well as drug smuggling. The INS has been described as "remarkably understaffed and underfunded."

That being the case, why does the INS waste money on high-tech gadgetry that not only is expensive, but often wrong for the job, or sometimes downright useless?A General Accounting Office report this week said the INS has no formal, defined method to select technology. As a result, the agency sometimes spends money without the proper planning.

This has led to situations like paying $714,000 for radio scramblers that are not compatible with other INS equipment, making them essentially useless. More than $1.4 million was spent on vans equipped with night-time infrared scopes for border use; then the vans sat more than seven months without being used. The INS spent $32,000 for a "microspectrophotometer" to detect phony documents, while the same device was sitting unused at another INS laboratory because the only one trained to work the machine had quit.

The INS clearly needs to get organized and establish policies for procurement of new equipment. Maybe a better idea would be forget about high-tech gadgets and just spend any extra money on hiring more agents for its Border Patrol.