Boeing's SBInet contract gets the axe

Napolitano says virtual fence can't meet objectives, plans mix of new technologies

Boeing Co.’s multibillion-dollar “SBInet” contract for an electronic border surveillance system along the United State-Mexico border is no more.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced today that her department is canceling the remainder of the troubled effort and adopting a mix of new technologies that will be tailored to the terrain and needs of each border region.

The announcement came at the completion of a year-long reassessment of the controversial Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) program. Development and construction of a 28-mile prototype and a 53-mile permanent segment of SBInet in Arizona has cost about $1 billion.  Click here to read the entire report.

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Initial plans developed in 2005 and 2006 called for SBInet to extend across the entire U.S.-Mexico land border. Boeing was to build a system of cameras, radars and sensors strung on towers and linked to command and control centers.

“SBInet cannot meet its original objective of providing a single, integrated border security technology solution,” Napolitano said in a statement. “DHS briefed Congress today on my decision to end SBInet as originally conceived and on a new path forward for security technology along the Southwest border.”

“The new border security technology plan will utilize existing, proven technology tailored to the distinct terrain and population density of each border region, including commercially available mobile surveillance systems, unmanned aircraft systems, thermal imaging devices, and tower-based remote video surveillance systems. Where appropriate, this plan will also incorporate already existing elements of the former SBInet program that have proven successful, such as stationary radar and infrared and optical sensor towers,” the statement said.

Boeing issued a statement that focused on its accomplishments under SBInet. "DHS has made a decision to continue using technology in border security, and we appreciate that they recognize value of the integrated fixed towers Boeing has built, tested, and delivered so far," the company said. "We are proud of the accomplishments of our team and of the unprecedented capabilities delivered in the last year to provide Border Patrol agents increased safety, situational awareness, and operational efficiency."

The company said it is committed to supporting DHS.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also issued a statement today describing SBInet as a “grave and expensive disappointment” that has cost taxpayers nearly $1 billion for only 53 miles of coverage.

“I am glad that DHS and Customs and Border Protection are finally listening to what we have been saying for years – that the sheer size and variations of our borders show us a one-stop solution has never been best,” Thompson wrote. “I applaud them for taking this critical step toward using a more tailored technologically based approach to securing our nation’s borders.”

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, also supported Napolitano’s decision.

“The Secretary’s decision to terminate SBInet ends a long-troubled program that spent far too much of the taxpayers’ money for the results it delivered,” Lieberman said. “The department’s decision to use technology based on the particular security needs of each segment of the border is a far wiser approach, and I hope it will be more cost effective.”

CBP awarded a contract to Boeing to begin work in September 2006. The initial 28-mile prototype began operating in the Arizona desert in February 2008, following months of delays and technical glitches. The 53-mile permanent section in Arizona is near completion.

Since the beginning, lawmakers and federal auditors have complained of shifting requirements, major technical snafus, delays, cost overruns and management problems that have bogged down the project.

While the reassessment of SBInet in Arizona has been completed, in a second phase of study, each of the nine border sectors will be evaluated to determine the appropriate mix of technologies to be used, Napolitano said. Those evaluations will involve independent, quantitative and science-based research, she indicated.

The new plan will utilize funding previously requested for SBInet and provided in the fiscal 2011 continuing resolution, Napolitano said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

Reader Comments

Wed, Nov 21, 2012

Sbinet works. Just ask the end customer. Us border patrol. Have you ever seen or heard any interviews from the agents that operate the system? The media controls our countries perception

Wed, Feb 23, 2011

It is the Government, and not Boeing that decides what to spend tax-payer money on, and how much. Technology and Infrastructure extend the human ability at lower cost than adding humans to accomplish what these assets do. However, you must deploy these assets within the limits of the assets and deploy them properly in the environment. Border Control is possible.

Thu, Jan 20, 2011

I don't think Boeing should be faulted in not being able to deliver a service that the US Govt was trying to put in place to meet the needs of Homeland Security. Perhaps consultation with industry experts to determine feasilibity and cost projections should have been considered prior to generating a contract for the work. Even the layman technology person knows without infrastructure it is impossible to deliver technology, so the first order of business would have been to look at the cost to put infrastructure in place,

Tue, Jan 18, 2011

The only way to secure our southern border is to make it a military task by setting up a kill zone along the border. Any other method cannot be effective because it does not eliminate the problem. BUT as Americans we will NEVER utilize that level of a solution. So the problem is one of watching our borders not securing them. You can't stop cockroaches from entering your house by throwing them outside everytime you catch one indoors. The whole idea of SBI is flawed and Boeing only used it as a method to line their corporate pockets.

Fri, Jan 14, 2011 Users and Taxpayers Everywhere Bethesda

It is about time. This a disgrace. Boeing should be proudest of the metal towers (and it appears that it is proud of them) and the steel planking in the next segment. As for the IT and electronics and integration of same, we should be happy that the company's commercial airplanes do not show the standard of workmanship shown on the southern border. May the firm'[s past performance on this job be submitted and judged before awarding the tanker contract.

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