DHS orders stop to SBInet

The Homeland Security Department has halted construction of the SBInet electronic border surveillance system along Arizona’s border with Mexico, department and company officials said last week.

Prime contractor Boeing Co. was ordered to stop work on the installation of permanent towers for SBInet because the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has not received permission from the Interior Department, said DHS spokesman Michael Friel.

But approval for a portion of the project might be imminent. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) gave preliminary approval Aug. 22 to DHS for five permanent SBInet towers on the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona. That permission could become final as early as Sept. 8, said agency spokesman Jose Viramontes.

Sources close to the project do not expect work to resume until early 2009. Even if Interior might does grant permission for several towers in Arizona, observers say the work stoppage is a significant hurdle.

“A needless delay like this is really disappointing,” said James Jay Carafano, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “The problem with border security solutions like this is that the other side adapts.”

FWS concluded that although the construction would harm the environment, the towers would reduce trash and other byproducts of the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who cross the refuge each year, if the surveillance system works as expected, Viramontes said.

The SBInet border surveillance project, a network of cameras, radars and other sensors on towers, is one of DHS’ most ambitious projects. The cost could exceed $30 billion to install SBInet along the Mexican and Canadian land borders.

Boeing completed a 28-mile prototype segment using temporary towers in February. Work was supposed to begin in July on two more segments with permanent towers.

Boeing was scheduled to begin construction of the Tucson-1 and Ajo-1 sectors of SBInet in mid-July, said company spokeswoman Deborah Bosick. The delay has nothing to do with Boeing’s performance on the project, she added.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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