Homeland Security requests industry input on border cameras

The Homeland Security Department this week published specifications for advanced video cameras it is looking to install along thousands of miles of Mexican and Canadian borders. Industry analysts expect the government eventually will purchase hundreds or even thousands of cameras.

In a request for information posted Jan. 4, the department's Customs and Border Protection unit describes a need for an "imaging system bundle" with numerous camera capabilities, including long-range, thermal and night imaging, pan and tilt controls, and the ability to operate at temperatures of minus 50 to 125 degrees, to communicate both through wires and wirelessly and to be mounted on existing and new highly mobile platforms.

The department intends to purchase the items both collectively as a bundle and as individual parts for repair and maintenance, according to the RFI.

While no proposals are being sought at this time, a large imaging bundle is expected to be part of the Secretary Michael Chertoff's Secure Border Initiative integrated border surveillance system with funding in the $2 billion range. Congress provided $31 million toward the surveillance system in fiscal 2006.

The new cameras are intended to replace the existing Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System (ISIS) deployed starting in 1997.

The ISIS has outgrown its shelf life, the RFI said.

"Much of the imaging technology that was deployed while the ISIS program was active has far exceeded its manufacturer's life expectancy," the RFI said. "In addition, the majority of this equipment is no longer state-of-the-market and has been superseded many times over by technological advancements."

As a result, Customs and Border Patrol's field enforcement's ability to rely on the existing system has been compromised, the RFI said.

The ISIS program has been controversial due to alleged cost overruns and lack of reliability. A report from the General Services Administration inspector general in December 2004 accused the contractors--International Microwave Corp., which was purchased by L-3 Communications Inc. in November 2002?of improper billing, failing to deliver appropriate systems and other shortcomings. An L-3 executive denied the allegations at a June 2005 congressional hearing.

In addition, the DHS Inspector General concluded in a December 2005 report that although $429 million has been spent on ISIS since 1998, the cameras are not fully integrated with the sensors and it is not clear whether the system is increasing border control agents' productivity.

The IG said the procurement has been marred by delays, cost overruns and ineffective oversight.

Story update, 1:40 p.m., Jan. 9: As of today, the RFI for the Visual Imaging Bundle has been cancelled with no further information available, according to DHS point of contact Mark Cecelski. The RFI is no longer posted on the fedbizopps.gov Web site. Washington Technology will report additional information as it becomes avaiable.

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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