On your mark ?

Boeing's SBI-Net project draws flood of potential partners

Boeing's online registry for SBI-Net subcontracts

Small-business owners interested in subcontracts for the Secure Border Initiative Network should sign up with at the Boeing Co.'s online registry at:
https://hbexternal.cal.boeing.com/sbinet/

Boeing will begin contacting registered companies in early 2007 to evaluate technologies and services for possible subcontracting. Activity is expected to heat up in the first half of 2007 as additional task orders are issued for SBI-Net. ? Alice Lipowicz

It's still very early in the procurement, but already hundreds of small-business executives are clamoring for a share of lucrative subcontracts in the Homeland Security Department's Secure Border Initiative project.

Several hundred small businesses to date have registered online in an SBI-Net registry established by the Boeing Co., the prime contractor. Boeing's SBI-Net Capture Team Leader Wayne Esser said he is hard pressed to respond to more than 20 procurement-related telephone calls per day.

"I know people are frustrated, but we can only take so many calls per day," Esser told Washington Technology. "Everyone knows someone at Boeing. I don't blame them; I know they're anxious. We won't leave anyone out."

DHS officials announced Sept. 21 that Boeing would be the prime contractor for the anticipated $2 billion project to create a virtual border fence, hung with cameras and sensors and networked with border patrol agents' radios. The first phase will cost about $67 million and cover 28 miles of the Arizona-Mexico border.

Since then, Boeing has named Jerry McElwee as SBI-Net's executive program manager, Tony Swansson as deputy program manager, and Ilia Rosenberg as director of technology assessments, Esser said. About 40 percent of the project management team positions have been filled, he said.

Boeing also has set up an SBI-Net Web address with a registry for small businesses. Hundreds of businesses have signed up to date and all eligible subcontractors are urged to do so, said Boeing spokeswoman Deborah Bosick.

"We are committed to a 40 percent share for small businesses, and we fully intend to meet that goal," Esser said.

'Keen' competition

But not all small-business managers are feeling welcomed at the moment. Many who have approached Boeing about SBI-Net said they are still awaiting a response. Some believe that's normal at this point in time, while others are skeptical. All are eager to get involved.

"Competition is very keen," said Hank Lewis, business manager for homeland security for Zel Technologies LLC, a systems integrator and software company in Hampton, Va. "I'm trying to get in the door as quickly as possible."

Two managers are already discouraged. One executive said he approached Boeing and was told no, and after further research he learned the Boeing team had already selected similar hardware.

"The only difference is our product costs pennies to operate," said the executive, who asked that his name not be used because he still hopes to persuade Boeing officials to change their minds. "I would expect their product doesn't come close to the low cost of our product."

Another manager at a separate firm had a similar complaint.

"We approached Boeing and were rejected ? I believe it's because they have a similar product," the manager said. He, too, asked not to be identified.

Boeing officials declined to comment on specific business relationships. But Esser acknowledged that because DHS' scheduled timeframe for completion of the first task order is only eight months, Boeing was forced to choose technologies for that initial phase very quickly to have them in place.

With only 45 days to respond to DHS' initial request for proposals, Boeing evaluated and selected its solutions with great speed, Esser said.

"There was an evaluation to some degree, but we didn't have the time to do what we would like to do in a normal procurement process," Esser said. "We looked at the capabilities out there, not just the first products that came along, but we didn't have time to do the extensive testing and marketing surveys that we will do going forward."

The technology solutions for the first SBI-Net task order are already selected, Esser said. But on future SBI-Net task orders, Boeing is committed to fully vetting technologies to obtain the best of industry in each category, he said.

Other divisions of Boeing, as well as Boeing's SBI-Net partners, will be "firewalled off" from influencing the evaluation of new technologies, he said.

"We have a program management team with partners. They will be firewalled from other parts of their companies that want to provide product," Esser said. "They will have to compete like everyone else."

No Boeing products have been proposed to this point, he said.

Please hold

As for the people who are frustrated about not receiving a response from Boeing, Esser asked for forbearance and said that the SBI-Net procurement is still at an early stage.

"People need to be patient and just wait a while until it gets moving. Once it does get moving, it will be at break-neck speed," Esser said. That is likely to happen sometime in the first half of 2007, he said.

Meanwhile, executives are approaching Boeing in droves. DHS established an online SBI-Net registry this summer that signed 346 small businesses and 112 large businesses.

To hear small-business executives tell it, actually winning a piece of the pie is a process fraught with uncertainty and obstacles.

"Boeing is being inundated," said Joseph Pipczynski Jr., vice president of 4D Security Solutions Inc. in New York, a surveillance system integrator. "With a program this big, everyone wants a piece of the action."

Many company officials such as Pipczynski are relying upon relationships within Boeing and its subcontractors to further their goals in obtaining an SBI-Net subcontract. They are making numerous telephone calls and offering descriptions of their products.

Others are holding back, believing things will be easier once Boeing sets up its program management team.

"We want to contact Boeing, but we're waiting for dust to settle," said Robert Bell, account executive for Aberdeen LLC, a Santa Fe Springs, Calif., maker of servers and storage solutions.

Several were unwilling to offer their names for publication because they fear offending Boeing if they appear to be complaining.

"We're completely in the dark," said a vice president for a small-business software company. "The hardest thing is finding contacts at Boeing."

Even if Boeing does a stellar job seeking out small business and diversity, it still may be difficult to win a contract, because of the sheer volume of competition.

"You have to be very aggressive on this," said Kenneth Susskind, vice president, business development for 3H Technology Inc. of Reston, Va., a software company. "We're very happy to go after it."

Staff Writer Alice Lipowicz can be reached at alipowicz@postnewsweektech.com.

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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