New SBInet chief has high hopes

When retired Air Force Col. Mark
Borkowski was named executive director
of the Secure Border Initiative program
office at the Customs and Border
Protection agency in September, some
wondered about the timing because the
office's highest profile project was on

Construction of the first permanent
installation of the SBInet border surveillance
system was to start in Arizona in
July, but it was postponed until early
2009 because of delays in getting permits
to use federal land.

"People have asked me, 'Were you
brought in just to shut [SBInet]) down?' "
Borkowski said. No, of course not, was his
response. Based on his initial evaluations,
Borkowski said he believes SBInet is in a
better position for a successful deployment
than he first assumed.

"What I am finding is there are some
pretty solid building blocks that are not
well connected," Borkowski said. "The
foundation is sound, but we need to connect
the building blocks."
Borkowski has been conducting due
diligence and overseeing field testing of
SBInet by prime contractor Boeing Co. in
an outdoor desert environment in New
Mexico. He is also preparing to make recommendations
for adjustments to the
schedule and budget.

If the testing goes as planned, permanent
construction of the Tucson-1 segment
of SBInet should begin in late
March, he said.

Borkowski intends to allocate $300 million
to $380 million of the program office's available funding for SBInet in fiscal 2009.
The money will go to towers, sensors, the
common operating picture and program
management, he said. The total SBI program
office budget for the year ? including
costs for physical fencing, steel and
vehicle barriers ? is $775 million.

In retrospect, the delays caused by the
land permit problems have allowed the
program more time for extensive field
testing that ultimately will benefit the
program, Borkowski said.

"The critical path is this system qualification
test that's going on," Borkowski
said. "We could put up the towers and
then backfill with the software, but I
would rather have a serial application"
and avoid concurrence, he said.

A critical part of the testing is confirming
that the system will operate in desert
conditions, Borkowski said.

"I have good confidence in its basic
capabilities, but we don't yet know how
stable it is," he added. "There's no reason
to doubt its stability, but we are doing the

Borkowski said he has no preconceived
opinion about Boeing's work on the
SBInet contract, which will expire Sept.
30, 2009. He expects to make a decision
by next summer on whether to exercise
the option to continue for another year
with Boeing.

At this point, Borkowski is just getting
started and feeling hopeful about the
future of SBInet.

"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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