IG: SBInet complexity necessitates outsourcing

The Homeland Security Department has no choice but to rely heavily on government contractors to manage its multibillion-dollar Secure Border Initiative, the department's inspector general told Congress on Thursday.

SBInet, which will cost $8 billion just for the technology and infrastructure along the southwestern border, is far too complex for DHS officials to manage on their own, said agency IG Richard Skinner, testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The committee has been holding hearings on waste, fraud and abuse in federal contracting practices in Iraq and in domestic programs. Lawmakers questioned a series of witnesses Thursday about contracting procedures, outside contracting and oversight practices about SBInet and the Coast Guard’s $24 billion DeepWater cutter shipbuilding contract.

Skinner defended the costs and the use of private contractors by saying DHS could not manage the SBInet program without them “if we go full throttle.” And he said the department will need more resources when new project tasks are introduced over the next few months.

Skinner said he agreed with the lawmakers that SBInet costs must be closely examined, but added that his main concern is to ensure that DHS has sufficient resources to complete the program.

Committee chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and other lawmakers said DHS’ two major projects are too important to be outsourced to private contractors without sufficient government oversight.

Waxman called the lack of such oversight a prescription for enormous waste and fraud.

“My staff has been examining what steps [DHS] is taking to oversee the multibillion [SBInet] contract, and what we have learned is that there seems to be no task too important to be outsourced to private contractors,” he said.

He said private contractors hired by DHS played leading roles in contract planning and contract award "and will now constitute the majority of the staff engaged in contract management and oversight."

Waxman said DHS has hired 98 employees to oversee SBInet, but more than half of them are private contractors, including a number from Booz Allen Hamilton, which he said has long-standing ties to Boeing, the SBInet prime contractor.

David Walker, comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office, told the committee that inadequate oversight is not a problem limited to DHS. “It is a systemic problem” throughout government, he said. GAO has identified 15 such problems, which it will detail in a forthcoming GAO report, he added.

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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