SBInet stumbles on its first steps

Four months after lawmakers expected the first segment of the multibillion-dollar SBInet program to be operational, the system still has not yet been accepted by border officials because of software integration problems. Lawmakers say they are losing patience with prime contractor Boeing and the Homeland Security Department.

“I’m really wondering, as I’m sure we all are, is Project 28 ever going to work as it was originally pitched to Congress and DHS, or are we again pouring vital money down the drain?” asked Rep. Christopher Carney (D-Pa.) at an Oct. 24 joint hearing of the Homeland Security Committee’s Border,Maritime and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee and the Management, Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee.

Project 28, SBInet’s first project, would help secure a 28-mile section of the border near Sasabe, Ariz., and demonstrate SBInet’s capabilities. Boeing said it has spent more than $40 million — twice the value of the initial SBInet task order — on Project 28 as it works through complex integration issues. The $20 million task order was for a fixed amount, and the company does not expect reimbursement for the difference, Boeing officials said.

The company reportedly delivered the system’s hardware on time, but it has since had difficulty integrating information collected from sensor towers, cameras, radar and ground sensors, said Richard Stana, director of homeland security and justice issues at the Government Accountability Office, who spoke at the hearing.

In August, DHS’ Customs and Border Protection agency informed Boeing that the system was unacceptable as delivered. Under a multiyear contract, the company leads a team that is responsible for developing, designing, implementing and integrating technology-based security systems that CBP will use to fortify the border.

Lawmakers discussed the possibility of DHS reopening bidding on the project, which was awarded under a largely performance-based contract.

“The inability of the department to find a border security solution that actually works makes it impossible for Congress to try to deal with immigration reform,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.).

Speaking at the hearing, Roger Krone, president of Boeing’s Network and Space Systems division, apologized for the delays. Krone said Boeing believed that CBP would accept an improved version of the system soon, but he could not guarantee when.

Gregory Giddens, DHS’ Secure Border Initiative executive director, also would not promise when agents could start using the equipment in daily operations.

Boeing said it had consulted with individuals and companies that have experience in securing borders in desert areas, but some lawmakers appeared skeptical.

“I am afraid that we are sometimes double- and triple-investing in different technologies and solutions due to a lack of coordination and information sharing,” said Rep.Mark Souder (R-Ind.), ranking member of the Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee.

Stana said that border guards he met with last week expressed skepticism about the technology.Until a system is delivered, doubt will likely remain, he added.

“When you are promised that that screen…is going to be able to pinpoint illegal aliens and you find out you are chasing raindrops, it causes skepticism,” he said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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