IG: SBInet has too many contractors

SBInet's heavy reliance on contractors increases the risk of losing control of the program

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency hasn’t kept contractors far enough away from inherently governmental work on its border protection program because the agency relies too heavily on them, according to a new report.

Contractors comprise more than 50 percent of the workforce on the agency’s Secure Border Initiative, mainly because of the Homeland Security Department’s aggressive program schedule and shortages of government program managers and acquisition specialists, the department’s inspector general said in a report released July 9.

“As a result, contractors are performing functions that should be performed by government workers,” the IG wrote. The CBP also failed to clearly define the roles that were appropriate for contractors and those that government employees must perform.

In response to the IG, CBP officials said no support services contractor performed any inherently governmental function.

Despite the abundance of contractors, the IG said the agency doesn’t have enough contracting officer’s technical representatives (COTRs). They have first-hand oversight of contractors' work and update the contracting officers on progress and any problems.

The CBP’s heavy reliance on contractors increases the risk of losing control of  the SBInet program's management, the IG said. SBInet is a comprehensive, departmentwide program to secure the U.S. borders. It's an electronic surveillance system comprised of cameras,
radars, ground sensors and communications equipment that transmit information to border patrol agents at operations centers.

The IG noted steps the CBP has taken to hire federal employees, but it specifically recommends hiring more COTRs to oversee contractors’ work. It also recommends allowing only government employees to conduct inherently governmental functions.

CBP officials said the agency has the SBInet acquisition and program offices working together on contractor oversight. It has also held training workshops for COTRs.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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