DHS to rebuild Project 28 fence

The 28-mile mobile border surveillance system deployed as a prototype of SBInet in Arizona is coming down and will be replaced with an updated version with permanent towers, a spokesman said today.

The changeover has been planned from the beginning and does not reflect any new performance concerns regarding Secure Border Initiative's initial Project 28 segment, said Michael Friel, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"Project 28 was a prototype," Friel said. "It will continue to be developed and updated to meet our operational needs."

Responding to a media report today asserting that by replacing the towers the Homeland Security Department is abandoning SBInet's Project 28, a departmental spokesman said that was not the case.

"The federal government is not 'scrapping' the virtual fence," said DHS spokeswoman Laura Keehner.

SBInet is to be a high-tech surveillance system comprising cameras, radars and other sensors linked with communication systems. Accompanying the system is the Common Operating Picture, which is an information technology platform to give the Border Patrol a unified view of activities in the field.

The cost for installation of the SBInet virtual fence along the border between the United States and Mexico is estimated at $8 billion. It is envisioned as a tool to enhance the Border Patrol's ability to identify the movements of illegal entrants.
Boeing Co. was named the prime contractor in September 2006 and began work on the $20 million Project 28 segment, which became controversial due to delays, technology glitches and questions about its prototype status.

Customs and Border Protection made a final acceptance of Project 28 in February, within budget. However, shortly after that acceptance, the Government Accountability Office reported that Project 28 does not fully meet users' needs.

DHS officials, including Secretary Michael Chertoff, responded by defending Project 28, saying that it is operating and providing benefits, and it fulfilled its requirements as a prototype.

As a spiral development project, development of Project 28 will continue into newer, more advanced versions to deliver more capabilities, Friel said. "The concept of Project 28 was not to be a static system but to be developed and improved. It will evolve and mature."

Information was not immediately available on what proportion, or percentage, of users' needs are being met. Several sources close to the project say changes in requirements have made it difficult to pin down performance benchmarks.

As part of the next phase of SBInet, Boeing is working on a $64 million contract to deliver a more advanced, more capable Common Operating Picture. Additional task orders are expected soon.

Meanwhile, Project 28 is operating. "Boeing has delivered a system that the Border Patrol currently is operating 24 hours a day, and it is working," said Boeing spokeswoman Deborah Bosick.

"With the demonstration project that was accepted in February, the department established that the virtual fence works," Keehner, the DHS spokeswoman, said today. "It has been assisting the Border Patrol in detecting illegal activity for months, and we'll use similar technologies elsewhere at the border in the future."

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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