Reach the Beach

Coast Guard's Deepwater urged to work hand-in-hand with Secure Border Initiative

The Homeland Security Department's upcoming Secure Border Initiative is being billed as the most comprehensive program to date to secure America's borders. Yet it does not include within its purview the 95,000 miles of U.S. coastal borders patrolled by the Coast Guard.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff in November announced the high-profile SBI border protection program as a centerpiece of his administration. So far, Congress has allotted funding for additional border patrol agents and inland enforcement, and for initial stages of creating the estimated $2 billion SBI-Net, a camera and sensor surveillance system along U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada land borders.

But Coast Guard coastal border protection activities, including interdictions of terrorists, smugglers and illegal immigrants, have not been integrated into the border program, and they should be, said James Jay Carafano, senior research fellow for the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.

"Everyone is fixated on the land borders; it is shortsighted," Carafano said in an interview.

The Coast Guard's border protection role should be formally included, even expanded, in the SBI program, Carafano said. Funding for the Coast Guard's Integrated Deepwater System vessel and communications modernization program should be accelerated, to $1.6 billion a year from $934 million in the fiscal 2007 request.

Deepwater is the Coast Guard's chief program for replacing aging vessels and equipment with new boats and cutters and for acquiring greater IT capabilities. The Coast Guard in 2002 awarded the Deepwater contract to Integrated Coast Guard Systems LLC, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. The initial contract specified a five-year base period of performance, with potential for five additional award terms of up to 60 months each, for a maximum of 30 years.

Congress also should allocate money for improving the Coast Guard's networks for command and control, including Command 2010, Carafano said.

Command 2010, which is unfunded through 2007, would update command and control systems to increase maritime domain awareness. The Coast Guard has not yet announced its acquisition strategy for the program, according to market research firm FedSources Inc., McLean, Va. Command 2010 would use sensors to track vessels; it also would deploy a common oper- ational picture for vessels by checking their routes against historical data, intelligence and law enforcement information.

Ideally, the Command 2010 system would interface with the Secure Border Initiative Network for a "system of systems" offering maritime and land domain awareness, Carafano said.

If greater integration between the Coast Guard and Secure Border does not happen, there is a significant risk that terrorists, smugglers and illegal immigrants may successfully exploit vulnerabilities related to sea approaches to our borders, he said.

"The Secure Border Initiative cannot afford to focus resources only on the land borders. It must also include the strengthening of maritime and air approaches to U.S. territory. Allocating resources to land-only solutions will lead to a failed border security strategy. A more comprehensive border security strategy should include a major role for the U.S. Coast Guard," Carafano wrote in a policy paper.

The Coast Guard isn't commenting on whether the agency's role in SBI should be expanded. "The Coast Guard won't address SBI directly," said Steve Blando, a Coast Guard spokesman. "We are very aware of the fact that the Secure Border Initiative may cause more illegal immigrants to use water routes, and we are planning for that."

However, even if, as land borders become more difficult to cross, the Coast Guard plans on its own to step up immigration enforcement on water, its role would be more effective if it were incorporated as part of SBI.

This should include a larger budget and faster schedule that served the SBI mission, Carafano said. One hurdle may be that the Coast Guard is a "modest" agency that traditionally requests a minimal budget and downplays its role, he said.

"The Coast Guard saved 33,000 lives after Hurricane Katrina, but did they toot their own horn about that?" Carafano asked.

Moreover, it may be optimistic to imagine that the Coast Guard can stretch its own resources to handle the overflow from Secure Border. For example, Admiral Thad Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard, told Congress on June 14 that there are "operational gaps" as old Coast Guard assets are put out of commission before new Deepwater assets are scheduled to replace them.

Chertoff, in announcing SBI last November, described it as a comprehensive, multiyear program involving additional agents, upgraded technologies, improved border infrastructure and enhanced enforcement of immigration laws, including workforce enforcement.

He did not mention the Coast Guard's role, however, nor is the Coast Guard mentioned in documents on DHS's Secure Border Initiative Web site.
The Coast Guard's Allen told a House subcommittee that Deepwater and the Secure Border Initiative are complementary.

"The Integrated Deepwater System was designed to secure the Nation's maritime borders just as the recently announced Secure Border Initiative will help deliver a system to secure the land borders," he told the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. "In the end, they will complement each other in delivering a comprehensive system of border security."

He offered no details, however, on how the Coast Guard's communication networks and other assets would be integrated with Secure Border networks.

Staff Writer Alice Lipowicz can be reached at alipowicz@postnewsweektech.com.

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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