Permit resolution won’t restart SBInet work

The Homeland Security Department plans to put its SBInet electronic border surveillance system on hold even if DHS resolves a snafu related to federal land permits.

Technology testing is likely to hold up the deployment of the system until January 2009, said Michael Friel, a Customs and Border Protection agency spokesman. DHS also might redirect SBInet funding to cover the rising costs of steel and fuel for physical border fence construction, Friel said. The agency has completed 338 miles of physical fencing this year.

Boeing, the prime contractor on the project, was to begin constructing SBInet towers this summer with radars, cameras and communication systems.

DHS officials called off the work Aug. 19 because of a lack of federal land permits. The Fish and Wildlife Service granted preliminary permission Aug. 22 to build five towers for SBInet on a national wildlife refuge in Arizona. However, Friel said SBInet will not proceed until the lab testing is completed, despite having FWS’ permission.

Also, other regulations could cause problems, said Stephen Flynn, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. If environmental assessments are needed for each of the 28 SBInet towers or if some of the towers cause adverse effects, the program would suffer a serious setback, Flynn said.

To be effective, SBInet must be complete and comprehensive, Flynn said. “If there ends up being major gaps in its coverage, those gaps will be quickly identified and exploited,” he said.

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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