SBI-Net needs tight program management: IG

The Homeland Security Department's upcoming Secure Border Initiative Network border surveillance system is at risk of spiraling costs, scheduling delays and over-reliance on contractors, the DHS Inspector General Richard L. Skinner warns in a new report.

With costs for the SBI-Net now ranging from $8 billion to $30 billion, the department has pursued an aggressive schedule for the project without having demonstrated the capacity to adequately manage the program and reduce its risks, the report said.

"The department embarked on this multi-billion dollar acquisition project without having laid the foundation to oversee and assess contractor performance and control cost and schedule," the inspector general wrote.

The report found that the department's acquisition management unit lacks the appropriate workforce, business processes and management controls to plan and execute a major program such as SBI-Net. For example, as of Aug. 29, 2006, only 69 of 252 positions in the program office were filled, and some of those were personnel detailed from other offices, the report said.

In addition, the report focuses attention on appropriate roles for contractors and federal employees. SBI-Net's program office currently has identified 65 percent of the 252 positions as contractor positions, and only 27 of the 69 filled positions were government employees. As a result, at this stage, SBI-Net's reliance on outside service contractors for management services is excessive, the report said.

The department's Customs and Border Protection Directorate is taking steps to address the challenges, but has not yet established robust investment oversight processes integrated into planning, programming, budgeting and execution systems, Skinner wrote.

"The department's existing processes were sidelined in the urgent pursuit of SBI-Net's aggressive schedule," the report stated.

The SBI-Net program office intends to present program plans and documents for Joint Requirements Council review in November, and to the Investment Review Board in December, to ensure the program is on the right track and to build support for fiscal 2008 budget estimates, the report said.

The SBI-Net essentially is a virtual fence along the Mexican and Canadian land borders composed of cameras, sensors and physical barriers linked electronically with border patrol radio and computer systems. The department awarded in September an initial three-year contract for the work ? roughly valued at about $2 billion ? to a team led by Boeing Co. of Chicago.

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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