Homeland Security

CBP needs better data picture from border tech

CBP mobile sensor tower near Nogales, Ariz.

Senators said the Department of Homeland Security has to apply the data it gathers from expanding technological capabilities before it moves forward with other border security plans, including a proposed expansion of fencing.

"You can't manage, what you can't measure," Delaware Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said during a May 13 hearing on border fencing, infrastructure and technology.

Pending legislation would expand and bolster fencing along some parts of the U.S.-Mexico border, said Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), by as much as 670 miles at an expense of $2.4 billion.

"What's the payoff?" he asked. "Before we throw money at the problem, we should find out if we're getting a return on our investment."

Rebecca Gambler, director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues at the Government Accountability Office, said DHS and Customs and Border Protection have been doing a good job implementing new sensors, drones and other surveillance technologies. But she agreed that they need to get a better handle on the data those new technologies are producing.

That data, she said, is invaluable in informing future acquisitions and security efforts, and DHS "has to assess what we're getting for our investment on technology."

The department is beginning to put a bigger data picture together, but it's far from complete. "DHS could be doing a better job on fencing and technology investments,” she said.

Officials from DHS, CBP and the Science and Technology Directorate testified that they were working diligently on implementing a broad range of new technology, including sensors, towers and radar on the border.

Anh Duong, director of the border and maritime security division of DHS's Science and Technology Directorate, said S&T is working to develop a Border and Coastal Information System (BACIS) that provides wide access to existing federal, state, local, tribal and international data sources and makes decision support tools available that can translate the available data into actionable intelligence.

Acquisition savvy, said Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner and chief acquisition executive in DHS's Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition, is essential to making sure the right technology gets into agents' hands. The ill-fated SBINet initiative that was for the most part shelved showed how important accurate acquisition is to the effort.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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