Congress to Boeing: No SBInet, no cash

Before the Homeland Security Department pays for a multiyear, multibillion-dollar border security program, it needs to assure lawmakers the program is ready for use, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said.

In September 2006, Customs and Border Protection selected Boeing as the prime contractor for the SBInet program ? a plan to use technology and tactical infrastructure to secure the country's borders. The first task order in that contract was Project 28 ? meant to fortify a 28-mile section of the border near Sasabe, Ariz., and demonstrate SBInet's ability to secure larger stretches of the border has been hampered by delays.

Lawmakers originally thought the project would be ready about six months ago, but DHS has not yet accepted the project from Boeing because of difficulty with integrating software, information collected from sensor towers, cameras, radar and ground sensors software.

CBP recently completed Project 28's system verification testing, said Michael Friel, an agency spokesman. The results from that test, which is the last phase of testing before an acceptance decision, will be used to determine if the project's technical issues have been resolved satisfactorily, he added.

Friel said that Project 28 will serve as a prototype for SBInet.

Integration problems that Boeing needed to work through included delays in radar information transmittal and hypersensitive sensors, which were activated by rain drops, said Richard Stana at an Oct. 24 joint hearing before the committee's Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee and the Management, Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee.

Lawmakers at the hearing blasted CBP and Boeing officials for the delays. They also questioned Roger Krone, president of network and space systems at Boeing, and Gregory Giddens, executive director of DHS' Secure Border Initiative, about the purpose of Project 28.

"Around the time of the aforementioned October hearing, we began to hear suggestions that Project 28 was just a 'demonstration project' or a 'test bed' for future technologies," committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) wrote in a letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.

"If, as it appears now, the technological problems encountered are such that Project 28 has become more of a technology 'test bed' than a new operational tool for the Border Patrol, the department needs to direct this directly," Thompson wrote.

Thompson added that he was as disturbed by "the attempt to spin Project 28's difficulties" as he was by the technical difficulties. If CBP's or Boeing's expectations of the project had changed, they needed to alert Congress, he added.

Ben Bain writes for Federal Computer Week, an 1105 Government Information Group publication.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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