Lessons learned

Boeing prepares for next SBInet segments along the border with Mexico

The Homeland Security Department's SBInet border
surveillance system is preparing to move into its next phase with
two permanent segments in Arizona likely to be operating as early
as December, said officials at prime contractor Boeing Co.

The two new segments, Tucson-1 and Ajo-1, span about 53 miles of
the Arizona/Mexico border. They are to be the first permanent
installations of the $30 billion Secure Border Initiative virtual
fence. The system is composed of cameras, radars and sensors and
will eventually cover U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada.

SBInet has been controversial in Congress because of technology
problems, delays and privacy concerns of property owners along the
border. But the Bush administration is defending the work and has
asked for $775 million for the project in fiscal 2009.

Boeing officials said they are building on their experience
installing the $20 million Project 28 prototype phase of SBInet now
operating on mobile towers in Arizona. Awarded in September 2006,
Project 28 received final acceptance from the Customs and Border
Protection agency in February.

"Through Project 28, we have learned a lot of lessons,
both technical and interpersonal," said John Chenevey,
Boeing's project manager for SBInet. For the next phase,
Boeing managers are consulting with border patrol agents and DHS
project managers every step of the way, he added.

The systems to be installed in Tucson-1 and Ajo-1 are being
designed, integrated and tested in the Boeing laboratories in
Arlington, Va., and Mesa, Ariz., with input from border patrol
agents, Wayne Esser, Boeing's director of strategic
development for SBInet, told Washington Technology.

"We are getting a tremendous amount of agent input at the
lab and in workshops for rapid application development," he
said, adding that agents visit the lab for two or three days at a

DHS awarded task orders to Boeing for the design and testing of
Tucson-1 and Ajo-1 in late 2007, Esser said. Full details were not
immediately available.

The department also awarded Boeing a $64.5 million task order to
update the Common Operating Picture, a situational awareness
application that allows border patrol agents to obtain a
comprehensive view of activities in the field.

In the new work, Tucson-1 will cover the same territory as the
Project 28 prototype. Tucson-1 will replace Project 28 with
permanent towers and updated sensors, communications, and the
Common Operating Picture. The Project 28 system will continue to
operate until Tucson-1 is up and running, Esser said.

Ajo-1 will cover about 30 miles in an area near the border
station at Yuma, Ariz. Boeing intends to complete design and
testing by July and complete installation by December. The
construction task orders have not yet been awarded, and CBP
officials were not available for comment.

Boeing officials also addressed criticisms of the seven-month
delay in Project 28. In February, the Government Accountability
Office cited a lack of sufficient user input and failure to meet
all user needs as additional concerns. However, DHS officials said
Project 28 was within budget and met the terms of the contract.

Boeing officials said problems arose from commercial technology
required under the contract, which failed to perform as expected.
Boeing also ran into trouble because it did the Project 28
integration in the field rather than in a lab, he said. But because
Project 28 was designed as a fixed-price contract, it was clear
that once the contract was signed, user input would be limited to
keep costs down, Esser said.

"There was a concern that any time there was a change in
the scope of work [resulting from user input], we would have a
right to say that is not in the contract," Esser said.
"We built what we had proposed [for Project 28]. Eventually,
we worked out the technical glitches and added some features that
the Border Patrol asked for. Now the system is working

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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