DHS bulks up Secure Border Initiative procurement oversight

The Homeland Security Department is adding new contracting staff to prepare for the Secure Border Initiative program and expects to have nine people leading the procurement, said Greg Giddens, program executive director. His post is included among the nine.

In addition, several component agencies, including Customs and Border Patrol, are temporarily assigning some of their contract specialists to Secure Border to help manage the multibillion-dollar contract, which would establish a surveillance system at the U.S. borders, Giddens told Washington Technology.

"The department and the components are very engaged in this," Giddens said. "Industry is waiting to see if we are committed to this, and we are."

A request for proposals for SBI.net is expected in early April, and the systems integration contract will be awarded in September. At least three major companies ? Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp., and Raytheon Co. ? have said they want to be the prime contractors.

The total budget for the system, which will include cameras and sensors linked with Border Patrol networks, as well as its implementation schedule are still works in progress.

"The budget is in the multiple billions, but it's something we're still working on," Giddens said.

As for the schedule, it's a balancing act, he said.

"We're trying to strike a balance between meeting an urgent need and the need to do this with a systems engineering design. We don't want to start down a path and then have to restart," Giddens said.

The surveillance system will use proven and developing technologies. "We don't have six years to wait for a technology to mature," he said. "The technology will evolve, and the architecture will recognize that."

Giddens said he has visited the U.S. border to view the video camera surveillance system, and judged much of it to be effective. That system has been controversial because of botched contracting and lack of competition.

For the new system, Giddens said the goal is to confront every person that the system detects is trespassing over the U.S. border, but with a caveat.

"I don't want to imply it is 100 percent, day in and day out. There could be a law of diminishing returns when you're somewhere near 90 percent. But we'll be striving for apprehending anyone that comes across illegally," Giddens said.

Giddens said he and his staff are working hard to get the SBI.net program off the ground. It is considered one of the most ambitious new initiatives of the department.

"It's not boring," Giddens said. "It's very rewarding and humbling to be a part of this project."

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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