Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Web site FierceGovernmentIT, we now have in our hands a document that should be fascinating to anyone who has been following the progress of the Department of Homeland Security’s troubled Secure Border Initiative and its high-tech arm, SBInet. The Secure Border Initiative is part of the Department of Homeland Security’s very expensive effort to secure the United States’ southern and northern borders, of which SBInet is its effort to gain information dominance over the southern border through radar, sensors, cameras, and other communications and surveillance gear.
The document, the DHS’ Fiscal 2010 "Border Security Fencing, Infrastructure and Technology" spending plan submitted to Congress, reports that despite five years of work and billions spent, Customs and Border Protection “does not have the engineering and logistics resources or capabilities to support deployed SBI technology and has been challenged to support legacy systems in the CBP inventory.” In order to develop this capability within the government workforce, “a significant investment is required” in coordination, software support, as well as engineering and logistics.
The DHS report goes on to say that CBP paid contractor staff from Boeing $45.1 million during FY10 for service support and engineering, an increase from the $37.5 million the government paid contractors in FY09, and that as of Dec. 2009, contractors working on SBInet outnumbered government staff by a count of 154 to 135. But that in itself isn’t a tragedy. The CBP isn’t a huge or traditionally well-funded government operation, so shouldn’t be expected to have skills like this available in-house. But still, the release of the report comes at a sensitive time for the SBI program, which saw its SBInet segment halted in March by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who also announced that she was diverting $50 million earmarked for the project into other programs like mobile sensor stations that might have a cheaper, quicker payoff.
Work on the SBI program began in 2005 with $3.6 billion in funds allocated by Congress, but in July, the DHS’ Inspector General estimated that SBInet’s technologies will cost $7.6 billion to deploy along the southwest border from fiscal 2007 through 2011.
Boeing has been the lead contractor on the program since receiving three-year, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract in 2006 to integrate and implement the specified technologies along the border. As of February 2010, CBP had awarded a total of thirteen task orders to Boeing, for approximately $1.2 billion for the program.
Finally, it is significant that the DHS report hardly offers a ringing endorsement for the SBI program, reporting that if a pending review ordered by Secretary Napolitano
suggests that the SBInet capabilities are worth the cost, this administration will extend deployment of these capabilities. If this analysis suggests that alternative technology options represent the best balance of capability and cost-effectiveness, this administration will immediately begin redirecting resources currently allocated for border security efforts to these stronger options.
Look for more on this soon, as I am heading to Arizona later this week to report on how current SBI technologies are being used by agents in the field.