Boeing's SBInet project under fire again

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has ordered a re-evaluation of options for protecting the United States-Mexico border because of delays in deploying the SBInet technology system.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has ordered a reassessment of the $8 billion SBInet virtual border fence program in Arizona after another round of delays in the program, an official confirmed today. Boeing Co. is the prime contractor on the project.

SBInet is an electronic surveillance system composed of cameras, radars and other sensors strung on towers and coordinated with other sensor systems, communications and command and control networks. U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently has been deploying a 23-mile segment of the system near Tucson, Ariz.

Napolitano requested the SBInet reassessment Jan. 8 after an internal evaluation revealed “unacceptable delays” in the program, according to a Jan. 11 e-mail message from Napolitano provided today by Matthew Chandler, a Homeland Security Department spokesman.

Although the message did not state the extent of the delays, the Seattle Times recently reported that the initial operational segment, known as Tucson-1, would be three months late in beginning operation. Instead of beginning operation at the end of 2009, the operation has been delayed to March 2010, the newspaper said.

Napolitano indicated in her message that SBInet continues to fall short of expectations.

“Americans need border security now — not 10 years down the road. I am committed to ensuring that our border security programs are timely and cost-effective,” Napolitano wrote.

“This fall, due to my ongoing concerns about SBInet, I directed the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to evaluate its implementation. As his analysis uncovered unacceptable delays, last Friday I ordered a department-wide reassessment of the program to consider options that may more efficiently, effectively and economically meet our border security needs,” Napolitano wrote.

Mark Borkowski, project manager for the Secure Border Initiative, which includes SBInet and other fencing programs, told Federal News Radio recently that the next segment of the project, Ajo-1, will be built as scheduled, but Boeing will not begin any new work until the reassessment is completed.

Boeing got the initial SBInet contract in September 2006, and first built an 18-mile prototype of the system near Sasabe, Ariz. The border patrol has been using that prototype segment in its daily operations to protect against border incursions since it was accepted by DHS in February 2008. Borkowski a year ago said the system was undergoing additional testing before permanent construction would begin.

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