SBInet spending plan not complete, GAO says

The Homeland Security Department’s latest spending plan for the Secure Border Initiative virtual fence and infrastructure program fully satisfies only three out of 12 legislative conditions for receiving additional funds, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The plan only partially satisfies the other nine legislative conditions, according to the report released April 30.

Under a supplemental war appropriations law in September 2008, U.S. Customs and Border Protection was allocated $775 million for the SBInet electronic border surveillance system, physical fencing and other infrastructure at the land borders. Congress required the agency to submit an expenditure plan and to meet 12 legislative conditions before it could spend $400 million of those funds.

The agency was asked to provide a detailed description of all investments to date, a report on budget obligations and expenditures and proof that the spending plan has been reviewed by top procurement and information technology executives in the agency, among other reports.

The border protection agency met three of the 12 conditions and partially met the remainder, wrote Richard Stana, director of homeland security and justice issues for the GAO in the 71-page report, which is a summary of briefings given to House and Senate appropriations subcommittees.

For example, with regard to the SBInet electronic surveillance system, the agency did not describe system capabilities or services, did not include a detailed accounting of milestones achieved to date, and did not include life cycle cost estimates, the GAO said.

“SBI’s fiscal year 2007, 2008 and 2009 expenditure plans have consistently improved from year to year; each plan has generally provided more detail and higher quality information than the year before,” Stana wrote. “Despite this general improvement, the fiscal year 2009 plan did not fully satisfy all of the conditions set out by law.”

As a result, Congress does not have full information on the program to minimize cost, schedule and performance risks, he added.

DHS disagreed with the GAO’s assessment for three of the nine conditions that the GAO deemed to be partially satisfied. The department asserted that those conditions were fully met.

The agency began work in 2006 on SBInet, which is an electronic surveillance system comprised of cameras, radars, sensors and communications equipment strung on towers and transmitting information to border patrol agents in operations centers. A 28-mile prototype has been operating in Arizona since February 2008. The total cost for the deployment along the U.S.-Mexico border is estimated at $6.7 billion.

SBInet system qualification tests by prime contractor Boeing Co. took place in December 2008. Construction of the first permanent towers in Arizona was scheduled to begin in April or May.

The SBI program also includes physical fencing and vehicle barriers at the borders.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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