DHS Cancels Electronic Border Surveillance System

 The multibillion-dollar “SBInet” electronic border surveillance system that has been problematic to build along the United States-Mexico land border is no more. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced recently 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. FCW obtained a copy of the report. Click here to read it.

In a written statement, Napolitano summarized the department's new strategy:

“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.

The initial SBINet plans developed in 2005 and 2006 called for SBInet to extend across the entire U.S.-Mexico land border. The system is comprised 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.”

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 Co. 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.

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