Post-SBInet border securityLack of oversight doomed SBInet, could hamper replacement

Published 10 February 2011

The poor oversight and contractor management that hampered the recently cancelled SBInet could plague its replacement; numerous GAO reports blasted DHS for failing to properly communicate and supervise its primary contractor Boeing; the program suffered major cost overruns and failed to deliver on project goals due to limited input from end users, shifting priorities, and poor communication; in response to criticism, DHS has hired more contracting officers and is reviewing acquisition procedures; critics are skeptical of DHS’ ability to deliver SBInet’s replacement which incorporates much of the same technology

The recently cancelled Secure Border Initiative network (SBInet) contract suffered from major setbacks from the start and these problems will likely plague its replacement.

Many critics blame DHS’s poor oversight and management of the acquisition process for the program’s failure.

Initially conceived in 2006, SBInet was designed to be a highly sophisticated $1 billion technological solution to build a virtual fence to secure more than 6,000 miles of border along the north and south of the United States.

In particular, the project was aimed at combating the illegal drug trade and preventing undocumented immigrants from entering along the porous southern border.

The virtual fence was to consist of a series of towers with complex video cameras and sensors that would be fed into command centers staffed by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials.

The towers employed a series of seismic, infrared, and video sensors automatically to detect people, animals, or vehicles crossing the border, classify their threat level, and alert officials. Individuals monitoring the information at the command center would then be able to relay this information in real time to officers on the ground.

Additional capabilities included satellite phones and laptops in border patrol vehicles that allowed officers on the ground to link up with the sensor system via satellite.

In September 2006 Boeing Co. was awarded the contract and began building a pilot program on a twenty-eight mile stretch of desert in Arizona.

From the start the project suffered from poor contractor oversight and ambiguous and shifting goals, resulting in numerous delays, cost overruns, and failures to meet product requirements.

Boeing had difficulty in integrating the software and cameras continued to fail due to the extreme heat of the Arizona desert.

Building of the second phase, a 53-mile long fence, went ahead as planned despite the initial prototype coming in several months late and at over twice the initial cost.

In a sign of rising congressional displeasure, several Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports blasted DHS for lack of communication, poor contractor oversight, and even manipulating test data to show more favorable results.

One GAO report, titled “DHS Needs to Strengthen Management and Oversight of Its Prime Contractor,” stated that, “Overall, DHS has not done an effective job of managing and overseeing its prime contractor, including monitoring the contractor’s performance.”

In particular, “DHS did not adequately document deliverable reviews and communicate the basis for rejecting certain deliverables in writing to the contractor, which contributed to deliverables that did not live up to