While the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection say that they now have a workable post-SBInet technology plan going forward to monitor the southwest border, some folks from the watchdog Government Accountability Office ain’t quite so sure.
Dubbed the “Alternative (Southwest) Border Technology” program, this post-SBInet plan calls for both more integrated fixed towers—just like those that Boeing delivered under the SBInet program—along with more handheld and mobile surveillance tools for Border patrol agents in the field.
Released to coincide with testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee by several CBP and DHS officials on Tuesday, the preliminary GAO report says that the independent analysis of alternatives (AOA) done by Homeland Security officials to determine the new program’s cost-effectiveness isn’t quite up to snuff. The GAO says that it has some serious concerns (PDF!) about plans to move forward with technology procurement, since it’s not clear how the government interpreted the AOA results in order to make its new plans for technology acquisitions for future deployments in Arizona.
During the Congressional hearing on Wednesday, the GAO’s Richard M. Stana warned that the Request for Information the CBP put out last month looking for new surveillance technologies “looks very similar to the kinds of documents we saw with SBInet at the very beginning,” and that he hasn’t be able to review the new documents “that translate their view of the alternatives [to SBInet] into budget and operations and planning.”
While the DHS plans on spending $242 million in fiscal 2012 on mobile video surveillance systems, handheld sensors, and integrated fixed towers along the Arizona/Mexico border, “the cost-effectiveness and operational effectiveness and suitability of the Integrated Fixed Tower system is not yet clear,” Stana said. The AOA “cited a range of uncertainties” about mixing and matching the new technologies, Stana said, adding that a study by the Army’s Test and Evaluation Command was still incomplete when the DHS' decided to move ahead with the integrated fixed tower program.
In his prepared statement, Stana also said that while the AOA “identified uncertainties in costs and effectiveness” of the technology alternatives in each of the four geographic areas it looked at, “there was no clear-cut cost-effective technology alternative for any of the analysis areas. Yet, the AOA observed that a fixed tower alternative may represent the most effective choice only in certain circumstances.” In other words, the GAO feels that the DHS “did not consider the combination of technology approaches in the same geographic area and did not consider [other] technology solutions.”
DHS officials of course didn’t agree with all of this—as the department’s Mark Borkowski told me the other day—but the fight for the future of border security is most definitely still on, and industry is only now lining up for a shot at a couple hundred million in contracts. It’ll be interesting to watch.