GAO official: Delay won't derail SBInet

The Homeland Security Department’s SBInet border surveillance project is likely to survive despite a forced delay until January 2009, a Government Accountability Office official told a House panel today.

“It is the right course to take this pause,” said Randolph Hite, director of information technology architecture and systems issues at GAO, during testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee.

Initial construction of SBInet towers along the border between the United States and Mexico was scheduled to begin in July. But Customs and Border Protection postponed the work until January 2009 because the project did not have the necessary federal land permits and required additional testing of its cameras, radar equipment and communications technology. CBP officials have also asked to reallocate $378 million of SBInet funding toward the cost of building fences and vehicle barriers along the border.

At the hearing, Rep. Christopher Carney (D-Pa.) asked if the delay and redirection of funding might be a final blow to the troubled program, which also experienced delays in its prototype phase. However, Hite said SBInet would continue.

He said he approved of the postponement to allow for expanded testing to ensure the system is working properly and meeting CBP's requirements. “They want to make sure they get the initial deployment right,” he said.

However, even if construction resumes and the technology is effective, it is likely to be months before SBInet is completed and can effectively stop the flow of illegal immigrants across the border, said Richard Stana, director of homeland security and justice issues at GAO.

“It could be years before we get full operational control of the border,” Stana 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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