DHS accepts Project 28

After more than six months of delays, the Homeland Security Department fully accepted Feb. 21 the first task order for SBInet -- its multiyear, multibillion-dollar project to use technology and tactical infrastructure to secure the U.S./Mexico border.

The project, which will use cameras, sensors,  and a tower-based communications surveillance system, had been delayed because of software integration problems that the project’s prime contractor, Boeing, had encountered. Lawmakers and government auditors initially expected the task order — Project 28 — to be operational last summer.

The Customs and Border Protection agency “conditionally accepted” the project in December, and on Feb. 13, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff told lawmakers he considers the project a “value add,” saying it would likely be approved within days.

The Project 28 task order was originally worth $20 million, and although Boeing said it ended up costing much more, the company decided to give DHS a $2 million discount to be used for future work after Project 28 was accepted. The acceptance also means that Boeing stands to receive the remaining $1.5 million that the department was withholding until the integration problems were resolved.

The acceptance comes amid continued scrutiny of the department and Boeing for the delays. Since December, the company has also been working on a second $64 million task order to design, develop and test an upgraded common operating picture software system that Border Patrol command centers and agent vehicles will use.

Michael Friel, a CBP spokesman, said the project as accepted was consistent with what Boeing was required to provide under its original contract. He described the result as a prototype, “which is a first step towards meeting our full operational needs.”

He added that remaining administrative and technical issues had been worked through.

Lawmakers have questioned whether the expected capabilities of the project had been lessened since officials originally presented it to them and have promised to hold hearings on the subject in the near future.

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said he hoped DHS would learn from Project 28's delays.

"The acceptance of a flawed Project 28 closes a difficult chapter for the department," he said in a statement. "The poorly structured contract that prevented the line Border Patrol agents from pointing out obvious flaws and caused an over-reliance on contractors has resulted in a system that has been described as providing 'marginal' functionality at best."

The Bush administration has requested an additional $775 million for SBInet for fiscal 2009.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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