Border securityDHS gives itself 30 days to decide SBInet fate

Published 25 October 2010

DHS has given Boeing a temporary 30-day extension on the troubled SBInet border virtual fence contract; DHS has spent $1.1 billion over three years on the ambitious project, without much to show for it; “one insider says: the question is whether to carry on with a Cadillac version of the network—- or to exchange it for a Chevy model that gets the job done faster”


DHS has bought itself time to decide whether to proceed with a beleaguered border security project by retaining the system’s contractor on a temporary 30-day basis, according to House lawmakers who requested an audit of the program.


In 2006 DHS awarded Boeing Co. a 3-year contract with several optional one-year extensions to roll out the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet), in the hope of establishing better detection of illegal breaches at U.S. points of entry. The network was to feature an array of surveillance technologies, including cameras, radars, sensors, and customized situational awareness software.

The program has gained little ground, with deployments at only two Arizona patrol stations. The House Homeland Security Committee requested several independent reviews of the problems plaguing the $1.1 billion project, including one the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released last Monday. In the report, GAO officials criticized DHS for lax oversight of Boeing (“GAO faults DHS, Boeing for SBInet problems,” 20 October 2010 HSNW).

Nextgov’s Aliya Sternstein writes that a staffer for the committee said Monday’s findings did not surprise members and they expect DHS secretary Janet Napolitano will decide to halt installation of the sophisticated surveillance tools across the Southwest border. In September 2009, DHS prolonged Boeing’s contract by exercising a 1-year option, but when that expired, the department allowed a 30-day extension rather than granting another 1-year renewal, according to committee aides.

Sternstein writes that lawmakers are awaiting feedback from DHS on how the department wants to proceed with the program and the contractor, the staffer said. The committee considers the temporary extension a sign that all is not well and that DHS either will discard plans for the sophisticated technologies or replace Boeing.

Sternstein quotes a staffer to sat that essentially, the question is whether to carry on with a Cadillac version of the network where cameras, radar and other tools are all talking to each other, or to exchange it for a Chevy model that gets the job done faster.

Since fiscal 2006, Congress has provided DHS with about $1.02 billion for SBInet, and the department has obligated about $850 million to contractors, according to last Monday’s GAO report.

Overall, DHS has not done an effective job of managing and overseeing its prime contractor, including monitoring the contractor’s performance,” GAO officials wrote. The oversight situation “combined with the many other acquisition management weaknesses that we have previously reported about and made recommendations to address, have produced a program that to date has not been successful, and if not corrected, can become worse.”

Auditors found DHS routinely received incomplete and anomalous program status reports from Boeing, which the department then relied on to project costs and schedules. “As a result, DHS has not been able to gain meaningful and proactive insight into potential cost and schedule performance shortfalls, and thus take corrective actions to avoid shortfalls in the future,” they said.

In a written response to a draft of the report, DHS officials rejected the characterization of inconsistent status reports. “The SBI program office demands accurate contractor performance reports, and is continuously engaged with the contractor to fix underlying problems,” wrote Jerald Levine, director of Homeland Security’s GAO liaison office. “The draft report fails to distinguish between factual errors versus legitimate monthly accounting adjustments.”

Last Tuesday, DHS spokesman Matthew Chandler said U.S. Customs and Border Protection, part of the department, concurred with the general recommendations.

Since the draft report was issued, CBP has taken several major steps to improve the SBInet program management structure, capabilities, procedures and processes, in addition to the departmentwide reassessment of the program ordered by Secretary Napolitano … to determine if there are alternatives that may more efficiently, effectively and economically meet our nation’s border security needs,” he said.