DHS needs to re-evaluate SBInet plan

The Homeland Security Department needs to immediately change its approach to managing technology in its SBInet border surveillance system to reduce the risks of going over budget and failing to deliver results, a director of the Government Accountability Office testified yesterday.

"It is imperative that the department immediately re-evaluate its plans and approach in relation to the status of the system and related development, acquisition and testing activities," Randolph Hite, director of information technology architecture and system issues at GAO, told the House Homeland Security Committee.

The Secure Border Initiative Network is designed to use cameras, radars, sensors and communications equipment strung on towers. The data from the sensors is fed into a common operating picture computer application at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations center, where border patrol agents can obtain additional input from the sensors and communicate with field agents. The goal is to maximize the capabilities of the border patrol.

Problems with the system identified by the GAO include poor management of requirements development, lack of alignment for those requirements, and lack of definition and benchmarks for the SBInet technology testing program, Hite said.

For example, a test management strategy was not drafted until May and is not final, Hite said. Also, the strategy does not have a master schedule for SBInet testing, metrics for measuring testing progress, or a clear definition of testing roles and responsibilities, he said.

DHS officials agreed with seven of the GAO's eight recommendations to address the problems, leading Hite to conclude that improvements are likely to be implemented. "I am cautiously optimistic going forward," Hite testified.

Over the last two years, CBP, a unit of DHS, has paid $933 million to contractor Boeing for design and testing of a network comprised of cameras, radars, sensors and communications equipment strung on towers, according to the GAO. Boeing completed a 28-mile prototype system that uses mobile towers along the Arizona-Mexico border in February.

In July, work was to begin on installing permanent towers in Arizona. However, CBP delayed the construction because it had not obtained all the necessary permits from the Interior Department. CBP officials have said work won't resume until January 2009.

Also CBP officials have said they will seek to reprogram SBInet funding to make up for sharp cost increases for building the physical fence. The agency has built 341 miles of physical fencing, about halfway to its goal of 670 miles to be finished this year.

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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