DHS courts new border technology

Key lawmakers want to see overall strategy before approving funds for SBI.net program

Checkpoint: SBI.net will form the technology leg of the overall Secure Border Initiative.

Gerald L. Nino

The Homeland Security Department has given IT vendors wide latitude to design systems for improved border security under the Secure Border Initiative-Net program.

SBI.net will form the technology leg of the overall Secure Border Initiative, which is aimed at gaining operational control of the borders with enhanced enforcement, surveillance, more personnel and better-integrated operations. SBI.net could amount to more than $2 billion in spending over several years, according to industry estimates.

SBI.net program manager Greg Giddens recently told attendees at an Industry Advisory Committee meeting that he expects vendors to make full use of DHS' existing array of border control assets in their planning for SBI.net.

DHS is calling SBI.net the 'most comprehensive effort in the nation's history' to gain control of the borders.

The 144-page request for proposals DHS issued earlier this month outlined the purpose and scope of the border surveillance technology program, which supplements other efforts to control the border and enforce immigration laws.

'Adding agents at the border is insufficient unless we also can give them the technology they need and unless we contain and remove the aliens they catch,' states the work statement drawn up by Customs and Border Protection. Under the contract, the system must detect entries when they occur, identify the entries, classify the level of threat for the entry, and 'effectively and efficiently respond to the entry,' the statement said.

The agency in June will begin to create an operational plan with supporting metrics, Giddens told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security on April 6. It should all be done by September, when DHS intends to award the SBI.net contract, he said.

The subcommittee is considering the administration's fiscal 2007 request for $1.3 billion for the Secure Border Initiative, which includes $100 million for the SBI.net technology component.

Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the subcommittee, said he wants to see a strategic plan for the Secure Border Initiative before approving the funding.

'How do you know that items such as $100 million in technology and $51 million in desert tactical infrastructure are needed, when you have yet to put into place an SBI resource plan or award the primary SBI contract?' Rogers asked.

'When presented with questions like this, we apply a simple formula: No plan equals no money,' Rogers said.

Rogers also said the government has spent millions on 'elaborate border technology that, eventually, has proven to be ineffective and wasteful,' such as the Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System and America Shield Initiative. 'How is the SBI not just another three-letter acronym for failure?' he asked.

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer for Government Computer News' sister publication Washington Technology.

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