DHS changes approach to border technology

Draft request for proposals expected in early December

The Homeland Security Department intends to apply a “capability-based” purchasing framework for its next phase of video surveillance along the southwestern border, the department announced in an updated solicitation.

The chief capability being sought is the ability to detect individuals walking across the terrain up to 7.5 miles away. The detection must be possible under difficult visual and weather conditions.

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DHS, in a Nov. 17 update released on the Federal Business Opportunities website, said it plans to issue a final Request for Proposals in January or February for an integrated tower system along the Arizona-Mexico border. A draft RFP is expected to be released in December.

“The RFP will provide a framework for performance/cost trades. In other words, the IFT system will be a "capability-based" acquisition and the RFP will indicate a set of desired capabilities in priority order,” the solicitation states.

In the solicitation, DHS officials describe in concrete terms the surveillance capabilities they seek from vendors.

The systems to be purchased must be fully-integrated, non-developmental systems, or off-the-shelf, and must have an open system architecture. The equipment will consist of radars and cameras mounted on fixed towers, with power-generation, communications and command center capabilities.

The language for the detection capability is very specific: A single tower system must be able to detect “a single, walking, average-sized adult human at a range of up to 7.5 miles under the following conditions: daylight and darkness, line of sight ranging from clear line of sight to partial obstruction (50% to 95% blockage of the individual for periods of 1-3 seconds), and sustained wind speeds up to 10 MPH with gusts up to 15 MPH,” the solicitation said.

The new language and capability-based purchasing framework appear to indicate a different approach for border technology acquisition. They could be an attempt to address criticisms from federal and congressional auditors that the previous “SBInet” system, while built under the specifications of the contract, did not fully satisfy certain mission needs of the border patrol. DHS spent about $1 billion on SBInet over five years.

“This level of performance ensures that US Border Patrol will be able to detect the types of threats encountered under typical operating conditions. A single individual is likely the most difficult type of threat to detect at range, and the foliage conditions in rural and remote areas are such that individuals may disappear from Line of Sight for brief periods of time,” the solicitation 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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