SBInet chief emphasizes positive accomplishments

The new executive director of the Homeland Security Department's controversial Secure Border Initiative Network surveillance system in Arizona is generally optimistic about the project.

"What I am finding is there are some pretty solid building blocks that are not well connected," Mark Borkowski told Washington Technology. "The foundation is sound, but we need to connect the building blocks."

Permanent construction is likely to begin in March 2009, Borkowski said. He said $300 million to $380 million of the program office's available funding will be devoted to SBInet in fiscal 2009. The money will pay for towers, sensors, a common operating picture and program management.

The two-year-old SBInet has had a somewhat troubled history. A 28-mile prototype version was deployed at the Arizona border a year ago and has been operating since February 2008. But it was criticized for delays, gaps in management and apparent missed communications with Congress.

Towers for the first permanent segment of the $8 billion SBInet system along the U.S.-Mexico border were to have been installed in July, but the construction was postponed until early 2009 due to delays in obtaining federal land permits. Cameras, sensors, radars and communications equipment will be strung on the towers.

Borkowski, who came on board in September, is evaluating the two-year-old program and may recommend changes. Federal auditors consider SBInet at high risk of cost overruns and delays due to its large and evolving scope and acquisition management limitations.

Borkowski also is addressing concerns raised by auditors, including the Government Accountability Office, to improve system engineering, formalize a budget, ensure appropriate management and fulfillment of the requirements, and allocate resources.

Another area of attention is making sure users of the system, mostly border patrol agents, are involved in creating, testing and verifying the system at every step, he said.

In complex acquisitions, there ought to be a "fairly well-defined relationship between the people who are buying the systems and the people who use them," Borkowski said. "That process of coordinating and integrating is not well-developed here."

Although the land permits have been resolved, the SBInet system is undergoing final field testing on towers in an outdoor desert environment in New Mexico. Assuming that the technology testing goes as planned, permanent construction should begin in late March, Borkowski said.

The total budget for border security programs run by Borkowski's office, including expenditures on physical fencing, steel and vehicle barriers, is $775 million.

"I think we will pull this off," Borkowski said. "I have a lot of work to do."

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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