SBI-Net contracting plan risky: GAO

The Homeland Security Department's plan to issue concurrent task orders for the $7.6 billion Secure Border Initiative Network border surveillance system adds extra risk to the program, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

"DHS' plan to execute SBI-Net activities through a series of concurrent task orders introduces additional risk," including possible cost and schedule overruns and performance problems, GAO officials Richard M. Stana, director of homeland security and justice, and Randolph C. Hite, director of IT architecture and systems, said in Feb. 27 testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

The department estimates a $7.6 billion price tag for SBI-Net, to be deployed along the Southwestern U.S. border through 2011. The estimate includes $5.1 billion for development and deployment of fencing, roads, barriers, sensors, and command, control and communications equipment, and $2.5 billion for integrated logistics and operations support.

DHS' plan is for at least five separate projects to take place by the end of 2008, including establishing surveillance systems near Tucson, Ariz., along the Texas border, Yuma, N.M. and the Barry Goldwater mountain range, as well as completing a Common Operating Picture for border patrol agents.

The surveillance picture consists of a computer display created to provide multiple users with a real-time view, also called situational awareness, of a series of events, such as locations and movement of people crossing the border illegally.

While the department developed an expenditure plan for SBI-Net, it lacked specific details on planned activities and milestones, anticipated costs and staffing levels, and expected mission outcomes, the GAO said. "This, coupled with the large cost and ambitious time frames, adds considerable risk to the program," Stana and Hite said.

The SBI-Net contract does not fully satisfy federal regulatory requirements to specify a maximum dollar value or the number of units that may be ordered.

Boeing Co. of Chicago was awarded an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity systems integration contract for SBI-Net in September 2006. The contract period is three years, with three additional one-year options. The minimum dollar amount is $2 million, while the maximum is "the full panoply of supplies and services to provide 6,000 miles of secure U.S. border."

The SBI-Net office has followed some, but not all, of federal acquisition requirements and best practices, the GAO officials said.

"As of December 2006, the SB-Net program office had not fully defined and implemented critical acquisition processes, such as project planning, process and product quality assurance, measurement and analysis and requirements management," the GAO said. However, the department did release a draft risk management plan on Sept. 29, 2006.

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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