Homeland Security

CBP working on border tech acquisition processes

Border fence. Shutterstock image.

A Customs and Border Protection official told lawmakers the agency is making progress on border security technologies, but a Government Accountability Office official argued that it needs to keep better track of the myriad systems it is deploying.

CBP is emerging from the long shadow of the massive, failed SBInet border security project. Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner of CBP's Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition, told the House Homeland Security Committee's Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee on May 24 that the agency is moving forward with a suite of agile border surveillance solutions, including Integrated Fixed Towers and the Remote Video Surveillance System.

Borkowski said performance on the IFT and RVSS contracts has been relatively good in the past two years. He added that the IFT contract was awarded at a 74 percent cost savings compared to the agency's original estimate, and it has performed well against the implementation schedule. In addition, the RVSS contract "has clicked along" with reduced costs against original estimates, he said.

He acknowledged that CBP often struggles to meet its milestone targets. "We've failed on schedule," he said. "I'm trying to attack that."

However, once the projects are underway, Borkowski said they have been reaping benefits. With the money saved on IFT and other projects that have come in under original cost estimates, the agency has been able to extend implementation of some projects from Arizona to Texas, he added.

Rebecca Gambler, director of homeland security and justice issues at GAO, agreed that CBP has made progress. But she added that the agency must keep better track of some of its systems.

The Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan’s seven acquisition programs are well underway, and Gambler said CBP has been taking steps to update schedules and life cycle cost estimates for the three most expensive technologies: IFT, RVSS and the Mobile Surveillance Capability.

However, she said the agency still needs an integrated master schedule for overseeing the wide variety of technologies it is deploying and how those technologies contribute to the agency's mission.

The Department of Homeland Security has "a very sound knowledge-based process for managing its acquisition, [but] where DHS has fallen down is on execution," she added.

Gambler said the weakness lies in ensuring that acquisition programs have approved documentation before they move to the next phase of the process. "They're making progress, but they have a ways to go," she added.

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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