Secure Border Initiative on fast track

Homeland Security Department officials said they will issue a solicitation in late March or early April for a potentially multibillion-dollar border security initiative that will heavily rely on technology.

During an industry day held today, representatives from the Customs and Border Protection agency and the Secure Border Initiative (SBI) program office said they want to award an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract by Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2006.

General information about the program will be available on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site by Jan. 30, and interested vendors will have an opportunity to submit questions through the site, DHS officials said.

They said SBI represents a more credible plan that they’ve ever had before. Speakers said they were eagerly looking to partner with private industry to help secure U.S. borders, improve interior enforcement and implement a temporary guest worker program.

“This is a signature effort for the department,” said Greg Giddens, the SBI program’s executive director.

They told hundreds of attendees throughout the one-hour long SBInet Industry Day that they were looking for a solution that addressed the right mix of technology, infrastructure and personnel.

“This is not about simply buying gizmos,” said DHS Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson. “It’s about taking all three of those components and using the creative force of the private sector to help us assess how to align all three elements in the most cost-effective, resource-effective way to do the job.”

The private sector should tap into the government’s border security, enforcement and immigration experts. But he said the government is largely looking to see industry’s proposals to better manage border security.

“We’re telling you [that] we’re open to good ideas,” he added.

Chris Milowic, the program’s acquisition program manager, said DHS will specify performance objectives and ask industry to propose a cost-effective, integrated approach. The solution must be in proportion to the resources we spend, he said.

“We want to get our money’s worth,” he added.

He said proposals should address:

• all land, air, coastal and subterranean borders.

• all geographic areas, topologies and environmental conditions.

• integrated technologies and response platforms and communications.

• the use of existing government resources wherever feasible to control costs.

• flexibility in emerging border security requirements that provides command control capability and a common operating picture to facilitate interoperability.

• the exchange of all types of data and improve situational awareness of any threat.

The Border Patrol has been looking to upgrade its technology infrastructure for several years, including the addition of surveillance cameras and a wide variety of sensors, to help them detect, identify and respond to illegal border crossings and other crimes. Since last year, the department has been using unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol the southern border. Initially, the Border Patrol technology system was called the Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System.

In 2004 DHS initiated a program called America’s Shield Initiative to upgrade ISIS and use high-tech systems and devices to help agents do their job better. They held an industry day in August 2004, but the program progressed little until DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff unveiled the SBI program last November. The program could cost about $2 billion, according to previous estimates.

Kevin Stevens, who has worked in various capacities with the Border Patrol for 25 years and is currently SBI’s acting program director, told attendees border security is a vastly complex problem because of the nature of illegal activities, geography and terrain of the northern and southern borders, and tactics used in smuggling people and contraband through urban, rural and remote environments.

Crimes include aggravated assault, rapes, murders, vehicle theft, robbery, burglary and larceny, he said. Agents must handle cases of not only kidnapping, extortion, sex slavery and indentured servitude but also environmental degradation, he said. CBP officials arrested nearly 1.2 million people and seized more than 1 million pounds of narcotics.

“Put yourself in place of a strategic and tactical planner and think what your solutions would be,” he told attendees. He said the agency is looking for a common operating picture that will help agents on the ground detect, identify, rapidly respond and resolve situations.

He also told attendees that he was excited about this initiative. “This is the first time in my career that I have clearly seen all the components coming together,” Stevens said.

The department will likely hold a presolicitation conference before releasing the bid. Officials told attendees that integrators should be forming teams, which should include small businesses.

John Ely, executive director of CBP’s procurement office, said the agency will be encouraging and evaluating participation from small businesses, which they consider to be valuable partners.


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