SBInet delay upsets lawmakers

The first nine towers of the Homeland Security Department’s Secure Border Initiative Network surveillance system missed a June 13 deadline for initiating operation due to a radar problem, according to House lawmakers monitoring the high-profile project.

Live operation of the first 28-mile section in Arizona, dubbed Project 28, also is expected to be delayed beyond a second deadline of June 20 due to problems with electronically integrating the nine towers, Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter today to  DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff. The towers are equipped with radar, cameras and communication networks that must be linked to function as a system.

Thompson, who chairs the  Homeland Security Committee, and Sanchez, chair of the Border, Maritime and Global Counterrorism Subcommittee, said they should have been warned of the anticipated delays prior to a June 7 congressional hearing on the project.

“It is difficult to believe that with problems of this magnitude, delays were not foreseeable at the June 7 hearing, which occurred less than a week prior to the date Project 28 was scheduled to be operational,” their letter to Chertoff states.

“The department’s failure to be forthcoming and the repeatedly slipping project deadlines not only impede Congress’ ability to provide appropriate oversight of the SBInet program but also undermine the department's credibility with respect to this initiative,” Thompson and Sanchez wrote.

Representatives of DHS, prime contractor Boeing and SBInet program directors testified at the June 7 hearing on progress with Project 28. However, no mention was made of potential delays at that time, Thompson and Sanchez said.

Thompson said he was informed of the delay by a phone call from a DHS official on June 8. Thompson and Sanchez said it is unacceptable that the information was disclosed after the hearing.

The committee was informed of the second likely delay June 15, the letter states.

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