Arizona Patrols To Acquire Border Sensor Technology

Arizona patrols to acquire border sensor technology
April 5, 2007

By Chris Strohm,
National Journal's Technology Daily

The Homeland Security Department plans to give Border Patrol agents in Arizona new technology this month as part of the first phase of its Secure Border Initiative, moving the effort one step closer to becoming fully operational in June, according to agency officials and documents.

The department has completed testing a prototype 98-foot tall mobile sensor tower, a critical component of SBInet, which is the department's multi-billion dollar effort to gain operational control of the nation's borders. The towers will hold an array of sensors, cameras and communications nodes, becoming a central part of giving Border Patrol agents improved situational awareness, or what is commonly referred to as a “common operating picture.”

“The tower and its components functioned as expected,” said Kirk Evans, program manager for SBInet within Customs and Border Protection. “The cameras provided clear, stable imagery, and we are confident that the design is repeatable for deployment along the border.”

The first towers will be deployed this month to support Project 28, which refers to 28 miles of desert outside Tucson, Ariz.

Border Patrol agents will also receive upgraded vehicles with rugged laptops and satellite phones, which will enable them to access the common operating picture. A mobile command, control and communications unit will also be deployed, from which operators will receive radar and camera feeds from technology, including the mobile towers. Operators will analyze the data and notify Border Patrol agents of threats.

Project 28 is expected to provide a first look at how new technology and the common operating picture will work, and is on track to become fully operational by June, according to CBP.

“Technology and tactical infrastructure are essential to enabling CBP to secure our borders. The perfect mix of resources will vary, as the border is very diverse,” said CBP Deputy Commissioner Deborah Spero. “The area being covered under Project 28 is complex and presents the opportunity to test out a variety of approaches to securing our border.”

Although the department appears to be on course to meet its stated deadlines for the first SBInet phase, government inspectors remain concerned that the program could go awry. The Homeland Security Department's inspector general and the Government Accountability Office have each weighed in on the program, saying it has high risks.

“Our main concern about SBInet is that DHS is embarking on this multi-billion dollar acquisition project without having laid the foundation to effectively oversee and assess contractor performance and effectively control cost and schedule,” Inspector General Richard Skinner told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in February. “DHS has not properly defined, validated and stabilized operational requirements and needs to do so quickly to avoid rework of the contractor's systems engineering and the attendant waste of resources and delay in implementation.”

According to GAO, the program is too vague in several areas and lacks adequate controls. GAO is worried that shortfalls might impede the program from delivering on time and within budget.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., also expressed concern about the program. “While we are glad that the department is on track to complete Project 28, that does not alleviate our concerns about the overall execution of the program,” he said. “There have been false starts and millions spent. We hope they have turned the corner.”