DHS told to increase control over border-fence contractors

U.S. Customs and Border Protection must improve how it oversees contractors hired to build an IT-enabled, security fence along the U.S. border with Mexico, an audit finds.

SBInet was to be expanded to include the entire 387-mile Arizona border, and then the entire U.S. border with Mexico. However, in March, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered the project’s plans re-evaluated and a funding freeze on future SBInet work.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) must clamp down oversight of its contractors, led by Boeing, hired to build an information technology-enabled, security fence along the U.S. border with Mexico, according to a new inspector general audit.

CBP officials overseeing the program haven’t ensured that contractors maintain up-to-date information needed for project management, complete tasks before moving to the next event, or adequately document their review and acceptance of accomplishments and criteria of the program, according to an audit by Homeland Security Department Inspector General Richard Skinner.

CBP, which is part of DHS, did not have enough government personnel overseeing the contractors for the virtual fence program, named SBInet, the audit found.

SBInet is an $800 million part of the overall multi-billion dollar Secure Border Initiative (SBI) for which the government hired Boeing in 2006. As of this February, CBP had awarded 13 task orders to Boeing for the overall SBI program, worth about $1.2 billion, the IG said.

Due to insufficient control of contractor activities, “the SBI program office’s ability to ensure both current and future program goals are accomplished is reduced,” the report said.

CBP did its audit from October 2008 through May 2009. In response to the findings, CBP said there have been program management improvements since then.

The IG’s worries about management of SBInet are hardly new. The ability of DHS to monitor the virtual fence program has been an ongoing worry, according to the report. When the program started, DHS didn’t have the acquisition personnel needed to plan, oversee, and execute the project, Skinner’s team found.

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“My expectation is we will not do SBInet along the entire southern border,” Mark Borkowski, executive director of SBI, said during a congressional hearing last month. As part of a broad reassessment of SBInet, the department is “seriously considering” increasing its fleet of Predator and Shadow UAVs and blimps, as well as using more mobile camera surveillance systems, he added.

To improve contractor oversight, the DHS IG recommended CBP:

  • Ensure that no work is performed without adequate performance measurement baselines.
  • Develop and put in place a process to document government review and acceptance of the accomplishments and criteria.
  • Ensure that the program events have been properly completed to satisfy all entry and exit data.
  • Re-evaluate the SBInet program staffing plan to ensure sufficient managers are in place.

CBP agreed with the recommendations and detailed what it's done or doing to fix the problems. At the same time, the agency said it believes that it’s met the intent of three of the four recommendations since the review was done.

“As an initial matter, since the OIG’s review in 2008, many significant accomplishments have resulted in substantive program management improvements and results,” CBP said, citing new leadership in the SBI and Boeing program management offices.

When asked today for comment on the report, Boeing directed the inquiry to statements that Roger Krone, president of network and space systems for the company, made during last month’s hearing.