Bush requests 8 percent budget hike for DHS

President Bush’s fiscal 2008 budget request for the Homeland Security Department represents an 8 percent hike over fiscal 2007 funding and casts the spotlight on information technology-related initiatives such as SBInet, biometrics and the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card program.

Bush’s $46.4 billion budget request for DHS for fiscal 2008 includes  $1 billion set aside for SBInet, which aims to create what the department describes as an integrated infrastructure and technology solution for border control.

Last year, DHS awarded the SBInet contract to Boeing’s Integrated Defense Systems division, which will deploy a network of towers equipped with cameras, sensors and motion detectors. The towers will be used to locate and track intruders attempting to enter the country illegally. The company will initially deploy its solution along the southwestern border.

DHS’ inspector general expressed reservations last November regarding SBInet, a part of the department’s Secure Border Initiative. Richard Skinner, DHS’ IG, told a House panel that the project has a considerable risk of failure, noting that the department didn’t lay the groundwork for assessing contractor performance.

But in a press briefing, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said the department will increase sensors and surveillance equipment to build a virtual fence. He said DHS anticipates “several hundred miles of this kind of build-out in fiscal year 2008.”

The 2008 budget also calls for a $146.2 million boost for the Unique Identity Initiative, which seeks a transition to a 10-print automated fingerprint identification technology. Currently, foreign visitors requesting entry to the United States are screened with two prints. The funding will also let the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, along with the departments of State and Justice, pursue interoperability between DHS’ Automated Biometric Identification System and the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System.

The TWIC card, meanwhile, would see a $16.5 million funding lift under the proposed DHS budget. TWIC will let screened transportation workers gain access to secure areas in the transportation system. Initial enrollment is slated to begin next month.

Don Rondeau, senior director and homeland security lead at Alion Science and Technology, voiced concern that TWIC is moving forward without some key aspects. He said debate continues as to what kind of card reader will be used with TWIC. Consequently, cards won’t have machines to read them when the project is implemented in March.

Other 2008 outlays include $178 million for radiation portal monitors, which will be deployed in container screening. Other budget items include a $21.9 funding boost for DHS’ Science and Technology Office of Innovation and an increase of $12 million for the Nationwide Automatic Identification System, through which the Coast Guard identifies and tracks vessels.

But Karlu Rambhala, president and chief executive officer of Avineon, said he sees opportunities for contractors beyond those highlighted in the budget request. Rambhala cited DHS’ Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading Edge solutions program. Avineon is participating in a small-business joint venture — Aerient — that was recently selected as an EAGLE prime contractor.

There is a long list of items that will come up for bid under the EAGLE contract, Rambhala said. He anticipates a considerable amount of enterprise architecture work, for example, he added.

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