GAO: SBInet technology management falls short

The Homeland Security Department is not managing technology well in its effort to build the high-tech SBInet border surveillance system on the U.S. border with Mexico, according to a Government Accountability Office official.

SBInet managers need to tighten controls to reduce the risks of going over budget and failing to deliver results, Randolph Hite, GAO director of IT architecture and system issues, told the House Homeland Security Committee.

“It is imperative that the department immediately reevaluate its plans and approach,” Hite said at the hearing last week.

GAO’s criticism is the latest in a series of troubling developments. Earlier this month, Customs and Border Protection officials confirmed that SBInet construction is on hold until January because of a lack of federal permits, and its funding is being temporarily diverted to physical fencing.

The Bush administration is seeking $775 million for SBInet in fiscal 2009, but Congress might not grant it if construction continues to be stalled, said Rey Koslowski, associate professor at the University of Albany.

“A new administration and Congress may think twice about dedicating billions of dollars to a program that has been difficult to deploy and has yet to prove itself in the field,” Koslowski said.

The Secure Border Initiative Network will use cameras, radars, sensors and communications equipment strung on towers. Sensor data is fed to CBP commanders, who can get more data and talk with field agents.

GAO said SBInet is poorly managing requirements development for the system, failing to align those requirements, and poorly defining testing benchmarks.

For example, the current design for the Tucson-1 and Ajo-1 segments of SBInet in Arizona do not provide the capability of delivering common operating picture information to agent vehicles, even though that capability was listed in requirements documents, Hite said.

DHS has not finalized a testing strategy, Hite said. Furthermore, there is no master schedule, no metrics for measuring progress, and no clear definition of testing roles and responsibilities, he said.
DHS officials agreed with seven of GAO’s eight recommendations.

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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