Border security is the star of DHS budget

CIO receives approval rights for projects worth more than $2.5 million

Appropriators look most favorably on projects focusing on border control.

James Tourtellotte

Congress views Homeland Security Department IT programs as a high school teacher might look at students in a classroom. Some of them stand out as successes, while others struggle or risk expulsion. And all need to be treated with a firm hand.

The star clique at Homeland Security High are IT projects focused on border security. Congress generally lavished funds on border security IT projects in the fiscal 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations Act, HR 5441. President Bush signed the bill into law last week.

Across town, the highly competitive vendors who form the student body at DHS Vo-Tech expect to reap significant rewards in the form of contracts.

Meanwhile, the legislative branch handed broad new powers to the CIO, or principal, to crack the whip. The spending bill gives the department's CIO approval authority over any project over $2.5 million and requires all IT projects to follow the department's enterprise architecture.

Congress shunted some serious dollars to marquee programs such as the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology system program, the SBI.net project to deploy technology along the borders, and the department's two new data centers.

Those data centers, now known as the National Center for Critical Information Processing and Storage, would consolidate dozens of other database management systems. Congress provided $53 million for the centers, and set aside $12 million of that sum for transition costs.

The lawmakers noted in their conference report that they expect significant savings from the data center consolidation.

Some in the vendor community agreed, pointing out that U.S. Visit alone pays the Justice Department about $35 million annually for data center services. The lawmakers marbled the bill with required reports and skeptical comments about some DHS technology projects, but praised standout projects, such as the Secure Border Coordination Office.

Congress views the office 'as the focal point for the department's transition from a fragmented and stove-piped border security organization to an integrated system capable of producing real results,' according to the conference report.

The conference report revealed one IT science project at DHS, known as the Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization and Semantic Enhancement (Advise) program. The project, supervised by the Science and Technology Directorate, is building data-mining tools.
The conference report noted that DHS has assigned as much as $40 million to Advise. But lawmakers complained that Advise lacks a clear program plan, cost estimate or privacy evaluation, and directed the inspector general to review it.

In another case, brainiacs at the science directorate plan to do the hard homework for the well-funded SBI.net border technology deployment project. Among their projects are:
  • Border Detection Grid

  • Border Network, known as BorderNet

  • Border Protection Pattern Discovery and Prediction

  • Common Operating Picture.

Taken together, the four programs form part of the upgraded technology set to buttress the physical barriers, including fences, mandated under the overall SBI program.

Boeing Co. will carry out most of SBI.net's technology operations under its $2 billion systems integration contract.

The final shape of the SBI.net project remains uncertain.

'We're not sure whether this is primarily a technology program or primarily a fence-building program,' said one vendor source, who requested anonymity.

Others acknowledge the risks that DHS faces in the SBI.net project, but emphasize its benefits. James Carafano, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said, 'The money spent on SBI.net will have far more value than the money spent on a mile of fence. People are so fixated on fencing the border, however, they may attempt to take away money from the IT aspect of SBI.'

Over at the Coast Guard, the money was flowing, but Congress criticized a number of programs.

The lawmakers complained about two major technology projects, the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) part of the Deepwater modernization program, and the Rescue 21 communications program.

Congress said the guard itself had 'listed C4ISR design efforts as over cost and behind schedule.' They noted that the guard has suspended work on the project and that the effort is being 'rescoped.'

The conferees sent $39.6 million to the Rescue 21 program, which guard officers often characterize as 'maritime 911' service. However, they rapped the knuckles of this project, citing its software development problems, cost overruns and delays that have prompted its partial cancellation.

Congress put a dunce cap on the MAX-HR human resources system project, reducing its funding from the administration's request of $71.4 million to $25 million and requiring a prompt report on the long-delayed project's status.

In a final blow, Congress canceled DHS' new school. It eliminated a Coast Guard funding request to move its headquarters to the former St. Elizabeths Hospital site in Washington, which was proposed as the first of several moves to consolidate scattered DHS offices on one campus.

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above