Failed SBINet offers lessons for border wall oversight

US-Mexico Border wall Nogalez, Az. 

The Department of Homeland Security's internal watchdog agency plans to monitor the southern border wall project as it goes up, the DHS inspector general told a congressional panel.

Experience is a powerful teacher. The experience of the failed billion-dollar SBINet, a 53 mile-long system of infrastructure, technology, and rapid response capabilities on the U.S.-Mexico border, is having a big influence on the IG's approach. SBINet was abandoned by DHS in 2011 after questions about the agency's management of the complex project and ballooning costs.

In Feb. 16 testimony at the House Homeland Security Committee's oversight subcommittee, DHS Inspector General John Roth cited SBINet as "too expensive and ineffective."

Although oversight of the southern border wall didn't come up in questions during the hearing, Roth provided some of the details of how his office would keep an eye on the border barrier project in his written testimony.

Roth said his office understood the "significant investment" DHS would be making to satisfy the President's Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements Executive Order.

"Historically," he said, DHS "has performed very poorly" in effective and efficient spending.

Roth said his office would conduct periodic audits on the project as it goes forward.

"A lifecycle audit approach means that we will be auditing the project throughout its life span, rather than waiting for the project to be completed or partially completed before looking at it," he said in the prepared testimony. "In this way, we have an opportunity to stop waste and mismanagement before the money is spent, rather than simply identifying it after the fact."

Roth said his office's first report on the barrier project, to be issued within the next six weeks, will take a look at lessons learned from SBINet and other pertinent border security acquisitions. The OIG will also look at Customs and Border Protection's comprehensive study of the security of the southern border, which the president's order demands within 180 days.

The border wall initiative backed by President Donald Trump would cover the entire southern border. However, DHS Secretary John Kelly told the Senate in January that a physical wall wouldn't be adequate. In a Feb. 7 House Homeland Security hearing, Kelly said he would like to see aerostats, as well as improved "sensors on the ground" to track movement along the border, and expected the wall project to be "well underway within two years."

Future audits, said Roth, would address planning, design, acquisition and construction phases of the border barrier.

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 [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


  • Workforce
    White House rainbow light shutterstock ID : 1130423963 By zhephotography

    White House rolls out DEIA strategy

    On Tuesday, the Biden administration issued agencies a roadmap to guide their efforts to develop strategic plans for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA), as required under a as required under a June executive order.

  • Defense
    software (whiteMocca/Shutterstock.com)

    Why DOD is so bad at buying software

    The Defense Department wants to acquire emerging technology faster and more efficiently. But will its latest attempts to streamline its processes be enough?

Stay Connected