(James Tourtellotte/CBP)

CBP Rapped Over Large Scale Inspection System Acquisition Strategy

An Office of Inspector General (OIG) report says U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) does not have a comprehensive strategy for meeting its Large Scale Non-Intrusive Inspection (LS-NII) equipment needs at all CBP locations. 

CBP obligated approximately $350 million and spent $133 million to acquire and test LS-NII equipment during fiscal years 2016 through 2019. CBP uses LS-NII imaging systems to examine large conveyances such as cars, trucks, buses, rail cars, and sea containers. The systems are used primarily in a secondary screening area to scan high-risk or flagged conveyances. These large-scale systems represent a majority of procurement costs associated with the NII program. 

OIG found that CBP uses multiple plans, such as its Multi-Year Investment and Management Plan, and individual acquisition plans for each type of LS-NII equipment it may purchase. “At times, these acquisition plans contained conflicting information and did not align with the program’s approved lifecycle cost estimate,” OIG said. 

For example, CBP’s Management Plan called for purchasing 17 multi-energy portals in FY 2016 through FY 2020. However, CBP’s approved 2016 lifecycle cost estimate reflected no needed requirement for the multi-energy portals. 

The watchdog determined the shortcoming was due to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and CBP acquisition officials not providing effective oversight of CBP’s “fragmented acquisition planning efforts” and a failure to confirm acquisition plans aligned with LS-NII program objectives. 

The report adds that CBP plans to purchase equipment with increased capabilities without ensuring the equipment is the optimal solution. Specifically, CBP’s Management Plan calls for purchasing more than 23 multi-energy LS-NII equipment through FY 2021, but OIG found CBP did not prepare a test plan for assessing the equipment’s operational effectiveness and suitability. 

“CBP obligated $45 million through an interagency agreement and for testing equipment prior to having a required testing plan for ensuring the correct testing measures have been identified and tests are likely to generate the data needed to make informed acquisition decisions,” he report reads. “In fact, CBP completed construction at one port for multi-energy LS-NII installation without ensuring the technology is suitable and effective. Additionally, the intent of multi-energy LS-NII equipment is to increase the use of LS-NII equipment by screening more than high-risk targets.”

OIG said the new equipment may provide CBP with the ability to scan 100 conveyances per hour, compared to the program’s current minimum objective of 20 per hour. CBP plans to purchase this equipment, even though it does not currently have the staff necessary to examine the additional images. 

OIG says CBP must act to ensure its multi-million dollar investments in LSNII technology and equipment will help the component fulfill its mission of protecting U.S. borders. It therefore recommends that the DHS Under Secretary for Management requires the acquisition program office to develop an approved strategy that aligns its NII key acquisition documents and CBP’s evolving LSNII needs with investments in critical LS-NII equipment. 

OIG also recommended the Component Acquisition Executive in CBP work with the program to implement procedures to ensure better alignment and tracking of reliable data for LS-NII; and ensure the NII strategy encompasses an approved Acquisition Program Baseline that includes key performance baselines for all critical LS-NII equipment.

DHS concurred with the second two recommendations, but did not agree with the first, and disagreed with OIG’s overall audit conclusion that DHS and CBP lacks a comprehensive strategy for its LS-NII system. OIG reported that during the audit, CBP said that the Multi-Year Investment Management and Investment Plan to Congress was CBP’s overall strategy for meeting its LS-NII needs. After the draft report was issued, CBP stated that it did not use its Multi-Year Investment and Management Plan to plan future LS-NII procurements. 

DHS and CBP also stated the report did not provide clarity as it relates to compliance with acquisition activities. Further, DHS stated it was exempt from having a Test and Evaluation Master Plan (TEMP). OIG countered that, according to DHS policy, if capability developers and acquisition decision authorities want to know if a system works as intended, it must be tested. 

DHS maintains that a separate strategy document for the NII program is not warranted. However, it said the CBP Office of Acquisitions will implement either a checklist or additional reviews for the NII program to ensure it reports consistently on the program data. It expects to have this in place by June 30 2021.

Read the full report at OIG

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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