SBInet contract gets another 30 day extension

Reassessment results expected shortly

The Homeland Security Department’s troubled SBInet electronic surveillance border security program—still under reassessment--is hanging on for at least another 30 days.

Sources at DHS said Wednesday that the department has renewed Boeing Co.’s contract for the SBInet system for an additional 30 days, starting Dec. 18.

It is the second 30-day extension granted to the program in recent weeks. The contract originally was set to expire in mid-November.


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Meanwhile, Matt Chandler, DHS spokesman, confirmed that the results of Secretary Janet Napolitano’s year-long reassessment of SBInet are expected soon.

“Since its inception, SBInet has had continued and repeated technical problems, cost overruns and schedule delays, raising fundamental questions about SBInet’s ability to meet the needs for technology along the border,” Chandler wrote in an emailed statement Wednesday.

“This year, Secretary Napolitano ordered a department-wide reassessment of the SBInet program that incorporated an independent, quantitative, science-based analysis of alternatives with input of U.S. Border Patrol agents on the front lines and the analysis of the department’s leading science and technology experts to determine if SBInet was the most efficient, effective and economical way to meet our nation's border security needs,” Chandler wrote. “We expect the results shortly and as soon as we have secured FY11 funding, we will move forward with the administration’s new approach to southwest border technology.”

Boeing won the initial three-year contract for SBInet in September 2006, with three one-year options to renew. DHS officials previously had exercised one of the year-long options, along with an additional 30 days.

The Secure Border Initiative Network system was  conceived as a sophistsicated “virtual fence” system of video and radar surveillance linked with command centers that would run along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. The initial Arizona sections have cost about $760 million to date.

The first section built was a 28-mile prototype called Project 28, which began operating with mobile towers in February 2008 after a series of delays and technical glitches. Work later began on two permanent sections totaling 53 miles, which are expected to be completed this year.

Meanwhile, the project has been the subject of many critical reports from Congress and the Government Accountability Office, noting problems including uncertain or changing system requirements, technology shortcomings, inadequate user input and cost overruns. Napolitano ordered the reassessment of SBInet in January 2010.

According to testimony from DHS officials in June, SBInet is likely to be scaled down substantially and the existing system may be augmented by unmanned aerial vehicles and mobile systems.



About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

Reader Comments

Wed, Jan 5, 2011 Josie Arizona

I've asked our Arizona legislators via email if they have ever seen a demonstration of the system on site and talked to the agents who actually use it. They don't answer either way but from other sources, it appears that neither the Arizona US representative or senators or even Napaolitano have bothered seeing the system at work. McCain blasts the system as non-operational and costly. The Border Trade Alliance provides a different analysis. The BTA actually interviewed the agents and found out the statistics related to its use. In the Dec 2010 press release by BTA at www.thebta.org/press-room.html, they point out that thousands of illegals have been apprehended and more than $25 million dollars of drugs have been seized. Not bad statistics for what McCain calls as a "complete failure". They also point out that even with the unplanned costs of development, the virtual fence is cheaper than a physical fence both in the short run and the long run. Either McCain is purposely spreading misinformation (for an unknown reason) or is just plain ignorant about what the border patrol is doing in his own state...or maybe both.

Mon, Jan 3, 2011

I'm not a Boeing fan but in this case the Government's assumptions going in are also to blame. The program schedule didn't allow for engineering development or integration tests before final installation started. Without tests and reviews, it's no surprise all the problems showed up during installation and what was supposed to be final acceptance testing. In the words of the DHS Inspector General, “ ... the initial assumption that commercial off-the-shelf technology would be available to cover SBInet needs ... ultimately proved to be wrong.”

Fri, Dec 31, 2010

Jason..you are saying it is a nonworking system. That is not true. An operational version has been used by the agents for months. You might want to read what the agents say in this article: www.thebta.org/press-room.html. Wasted time and inconvenience? It also gives an analysis of the virtual fence vs. a physical fence which further supports extension of the virtual fence. Also, remember it is a two way street with government/contractor relationships. You are also assuming that Boeing has not made some concessions. You would be wrong. Experts have indicated it would be a mistake to lose the lessons learned by both the government and Boeing by bagging the program or letting another contractor take over. I am an Arizona homeowner and really have appreciated both the technological and manpower increases by DHS.

Mon, Dec 27, 2010

You are assuming that Boeing is completely responsible for the SBInet shortcomings. It is important to note that the majority of failures in Government Programs are due the Government providing poor requirements resulting in many change orders. I'm not saying that Boeing is not to blame in this failure as they should have validated requirements after contract award; however, the Government must learn how to better identify its needs and communicate them more effectivily in its RFPs so it get what it wants.

Sat, Dec 25, 2010 Jason Muchtadar District of Columbia

What are the possibilities for getting contractor Boeing to return the bulk of payments to the govt for the nonworking system and wasted time and inconvenience? Also, can we be sure that its "past performance" is recorded comprehensively and accurately so that future prospective customers have an accurate view of how the company did.

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