Halcyon days of SBI

The Secure Border Initiative project is at its most tranquil stage right now. The bids are in, teams are in place. Everyone is talking about what they can do and why they can do it better than anyone else.

While there is plenty of talk of the challenges of building a system to monitor and control our borders with Canada and Mexico, optimism and ambition rule the day.

Now, as Alice Lipowicz describes in her story on page 1, the race for the contract has begun.

It reminds me of the run-up to other large ambitious contracts, such as the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet and the IRS Prime. Those contracts were touted as watershed events for the IT industry.

But winning them did not result in storybook endings in which everyone lived happily ever after. Instead, the awards were just the beginning. A lot of pain and anguish followed for the contractors and the customers. Success was never guaranteed, and often seemed in doubt.

The Secure Border Initiative will follow a similar course. The winning contractor will have to cope with close and constant scrutiny from the media, Congress and the White House. Mistakes will be made. There will be threats of cancellation, and a parade of capitulations, compromises and successes.

Defining success for SBI poses a significant challenge. Illegal immigrants, drugs and other contraband will continue to cross the borders. But if the technology works as planned, does that count as success? If there are no terrorist attacks, does that mean the system worked?

The winning contractor will have every right to celebrate and do a little chest thumping. but best to keep it to a minimum ? the real celebration may be years away.

On a different note, this is the last issue that will feature Eliza Nagle as one of our "Infotech and the Law" columnists. A job change has forced her to drop the column. Through the years, she has provided insightful commentary on the legal issues facing government contracts. And she made her deadlines. Thank you, Eliza.

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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