DHS IG sees substantial risks for core SBInet program

DHS OIG review

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Despite recent moves by the Homeland Security Department to boost oversight of its SBInet program, which is a major part of the Secure Border Initiative, the department’s inspector general said he believes it is still at considerable risk of failing.

DHS did not lay the foundation to oversee and assess contractor performance and control the costs and schedule of this multibillion dollar investment before awarding the SBInet contract to Boeing, Richard Skinner, DHS’ IG, told a House Homeland Security Committee panel.

“We see risks similar to those occurring in other DHS acquisitions where contract management and oversight have failed,” Skinner said.

The department’s acquisition management division lacked the appropriate workforce, business processes and management controls for planning and executing a major acquisition such as SBInet, he said in testimony before the committee’s Management, Integration and Oversight Subcommittee.

DHS only recently performed the analysis needed to define and stabilize the SBInet organizational structure and restructure the organization accordingly, he said. And it’s still unclear whether that organization will be able to handle future challenges.

SBInet, a technology-intensive attempt to better control U.S. borders, replaces two previous programs, the Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System and the America’s Shield Initiative.

DHS awarded the $2.5 billion contract to Boeing in September, and a few days later, the House passed a bill that gave the DHS IG oversight responsibility for all contracts worth more than $20 million awarded under the program.

In the first of what will be a series of reviews of the SBInet program, DHS’ Office of the IG recently outlined the steps the department took in awarding the contract, in which it left the work tasks and deliverables largely undefined.

The initial intent of the SBInet program office is to negotiate separate task orders for each of the Border Patrol’s 20 sectors spanning the northern and southern U.S. borders.

However, the review said the program office has been critically understaffed. As of late August, it had filled only 69 of the 252 proposed positions. In addition, only 27 are government employees, and the rest are contract hires. The OIG said that ratio is excessive for this early, decision-intensive stage of the program.

Overall, DHS calls for an organizational structure in which contractors account for nearly two-thirds of the program office’s employees.

The department has also not fully defined, validated and stabilized the operational requirements of SBInet, the review said, which means the program’s objectives are at risk and effective cost and schedule controls are difficult.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.


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