Border securityCBP MVSS border surveillance system: Another border program mired in delays

By Robert Lee Maril

Published 16 September 2016

Political parties debate crucial immigration issues, including a call for a new border wall, but an essential component — frequently neglected in the run up to the November elections — is the efficacy of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) contract acquisition and management process. What is frequently overlooked is the “business side” of CBP – but the business side of CBP is crucial to any immigration policy. CBP agents and officers finally are benefiting from the much-delayed delivery of the Integrated Fixed Tower (IFT) surveillance technology program, but the status of the Remote Video Surveillance Systems (RVSS) and Ultra-Light Aircraft Detection (ULAD) surveillance technology programs has not been ascertained. After many needless Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition (OTIA) delays and problematic contract management decisions, both the MVSS program, along with the Mobile Surveillance Capabilities (MSC) program, now appear to be dead in the water. 

While political parties debate crucial immigration issues including a call for a new border wall, an essential but frequently neglected component in the run up to the November elections is the efficacy of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) contract acquisition and management process. Simply put, what frequently gets left out of presidential election rhetoric is any mention of the “business side” of CBP

In 2015 the total net cost of CBP operations was $13.3 billion and total budgetary resources were $19.5 billion. If the business side of CBP is problematic, then it may have consequences for how agents and officers perform their jobs on the line and at ports of entry. How well our CBP personnel perform their jobs on a day-by-day basis is, as all who have studied organizations like CBP know, a key factor in implementing and enforcing whatever policies may be generated from inside the beltway.

A key segment of the business side of our largest federal law enforcement agency — CBP now boasts 60,000 employees — includes the contract acquisition and management of border surveillance technology programs. This cycle includes the development of specific programs which will enhance the performance of agents and officers, determining the specifications of these products to assure they will meet certain institutional objectives, selecting which contractors should be awarded contracts, and the supervision of these contracts from production to operation and maintenance stages. 

Because of the failure of the CBP’s Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet), the CBP contract acquisition and management process for several crucial border surveillance technology programs directly impacts, now more than ever, the daily work lives of CBP agents and officers, border residents, and all those turned backed or detained as they attempt to enter or leave this country. Policies, procedures, rules, and new technologies are carried out by CBP employees. The sooner these employees receive the new surveillance systems, the better they can enforce whatever regulations are, or are soon going to be, voted into place.

The failed SBInet program yet again has been renamed the “Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan”. Henceforth, surveillance technologies are to be employed, according to the CBP, which consider the uniqueness of specific border regions in contrast to the one size fits all approach of former SBInet.