DHS to hire Hopkins lab to test virtual fence

The Homeland Security Department will hire Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory for independent testing of the next-generation technology system that DHS plans to deploy later this year to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.

DHS hired Boeing in December to develop the new command and control center and common operating picture (COP) system, which officials say will replace much of the system Boeing created under Project 28 in Arizona. DHS initially tasked Boeing to design a prototype for securing a 28-mile stretch along the Arizona border. Officials say that Project 28 equipment swapped out of Tucson may be redeployed elsewhere.

Project 28 and COP represent the key initial task orders of DHS’ multibillion-dollar, multiyear initiative to use a mix of virtual and tactical efforts to bolster security along the border.

The announcement of Customs and Border Protection’s plans to hire Johns Hopkins as an independent tester is not unusual; independent verification is common practice in large government contracts. However, insufficient operational testing by CBP before the system was delivered is one of the reasons credited for Project 28’s delays.

DHS accepted Project 28 eight months late and government auditors have said that a lack of testing of its mixture of sensors, cameras and radio towers ahead of delivery by the border patrol was partly to blame for the delays.

Richard Stana, director of homeland security and justice at the Government Accountability Office, said at a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee today that going forward, three major lessons must be adhered to: CBP needs to be involved earlier in defining the requirements of the system, equipment and software needs to be tested before the system is fielded and deployed, and overall expectations and timeframes may need to be tamped down.

“I think it’s important as we move on and put Project 28 behind us, so to speak, not to lose those lessons,” Stana said. “Test the equipment and the software before you field it, before you deploy it — you will save yourself lots of problems.”

Stana noted that Boeing had acknowledged the issue and said it was working to resolve it.

Last week, Roger Krone, president of network and space systems at Boeing, told lawmakers that the company also had learned lessons from Project 28’s troubles, such as CBP’s need for more capable command and control software and for more integration and testing before development.

The sole-source contract to Johns Hopkins that DHS plans to award is for one base year and a possible extension of one year worth a maximum of $4.9 million.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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