DHS Cancels SBInet Contract

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will allow the Secure Border Initiative (SBInet) contract with The Boeing Co. to lapse on Monday, at the end of its most recent one-month extension.

But that doesn’t mean DHS won’t make use of the virtual fence technology along the US southwest border. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano emphasized that DHS will make use of different mixes of technology, including SBInet surveillance towers, in different border sectors.

"Following the completion of the department-wide independent, comprehensive assessment of US Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Secure Border Initiative-Network (SBInet) program, 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," Napolitano said in a statement Friday.

"There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to meet our border technology needs, and this new strategy is tailored to the unique needs of each border region, providing faster deployment of technology, better coverage, and a more effective balance between cost and capability," she said.

Napolitano said an independent assessment, combined with the input of US Border Patrol agents and DHS technology experts, led DHS leadership to conclude that SBInet "cannot meet its original objective of providing a single, integrated border security technology solution." An assessment of four major border technology approaches produced by the Homeland Security Studies and Analysis Institute provided input that led to the cancellation of the SBInet contract.

Although DHS officials previously have acknowledged a shift in strategy in numerous appearances before Congress and in interviews with Homeland Security Today, the department had not yet adopted a new technology to incorporate a targeted use of SBInet technologies.

"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," Napolitano said.

She added, "The new plan complements the administration’s unprecedented investments in manpower, infrastructure and resources along the Southwest border and will utilize funding previously requested for SBInet and provided in the continuing resolution [for fiscal 2011 funding].  CBP intends to acquire all the technologies in the new plan, including the integrated fixed towers, through full and open competition. Independent, quantitative, science-based assessments will continue along each sector of the Southwest border in 2011 to determine the optimal combination of technology for each region."

Members of Congress briefed by Napolitano Friday generally reacted positively to news of the cancellation of Boeing’s contract, which successfully produced a working border surveillance system but not on the timeline initially promised to lawmakers.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement, "While I understand the Department of Homeland Security decision to end the SBInet program, I continue to have very serious concerns about the Obama administration’s lack of urgency to secure the border.  

"Since announcing a moratorium to SBInet, it has taken DHS a full year to make the final decision to cancel the program.  Now today, we learn that DHS will spend all of 2011, and maybe longer, deciding what to do next.  These delays are unacceptable.  The Obama administration must promptly present the people of this country with a comprehensive plan to secure our borders, incorporating the necessary staffing, fencing, and technology.  I expect the Administration, in its upcoming 2012 budget proposal, to put forward such a plan, including timelines and metrics," King said

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee (D-Miss.), never embraced the SBInet program.

"The SBInet program has been a grave and expensive disappointment since its inception," Thompson said in a statement. "Our Committee has held 11 hearings on the project, commissioned five critical [reports from the Government Accountability Office], all while costing taxpayers nearly $1 billion for only 53 miles of coverage.  I am glad that DHS and CBP 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.  I applaud them for taking this critical step toward using a more tailored technologically-based approach to securing our nation’s borders."

DHS cited the cost-effectiveness of SBInet as one of the reasons for the cancellation of the contract. The department spent roughly $1.2 billion on the program since 2005–about $500 million of that went toward development costs for technologies that advocates say did not yet exist. Another $400 million went toward physical fencing DHS put up along the US southwest border.

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