CBP works to secure a virtual fence
- By Wilson P. Dizard III
- Aug 18, 2004
Luke McCormack and his colleagues are working to increase the data center's Capabilities Maturity Model rating.
The Customs and Border Protection agency has plenty of work to do as it constructs the virtual fence needed to help protect the country from terrorists.
It's a long fence, and its electronic extensions overseas are making it longer. The country's land borders extend some 7,500 miles, and there are 95,000 miles of shoreline and navigable rivers. Each year more than 500 million people, 130 million vehicles, 2.5 million rail cars and 7 million cargo containers cross the borders, 95 percent of them at the country's 361 land, sea and air ports.
Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, border agencies concentrated on preventing the smuggling of contraband materials and illegal immigrants into the United States, as well as managing customs collection.
Since the attacks, CBP and its sister agencies have refocused their energies, including their IT projects, on keeping out terrorists and their deadly tools.
The core of CBP's systems development is the Automated Commercial Environment, a $1.3 billion, 15-year project to overhaul customs processing.
Following the terrorist attacks, the agency's systems managers realigned ACE to speed up its security features. Those changes contributed to cost overruns in the project's first and second releases that boosted spending from $86.1 million to $109.4 million, and delayed both of them, according to the Government Accountability Office.
GAO added that the now-delayed third and fourth ACE releases had increased in cost from $146.4 million to $192.4 million.
CBP officials largely agreed with GAO's conclusion that ACE could face further delays unless managers tightened project oversight.
'ACE is a very large program,' said Luke McCormack, acting executive director of CBPs Infrastructure Services Division. 'Like any large program, you have to evolve in how it is implemented and how it is managed.
'We have to balance whether we want to do [a specific task] in a legacy environment or whether we want to reprogram ACE to do [the task] earlier than we had anticipated,' McCormack said. 'There is always going to be an evolution of your rollout capability.'New demands
Even as CBP officials grappled with ACE's complexities, they faced new demands on their staff and systems resources from the growth of new counterterrorism projects, such as the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology system for processing travelers.
McCormack, who manages CBP's 700-employee data center in Springfield, Va., said, 'Demands on the data center have increased tremendously, in terms of high availability capabilities and just pure processing power.'
The traveler processing system is led by the U.S. Visit Program Office, which also falls under the Border and Transportation Security Directorate. But creating the U.S. Visit system requires staff and systems resources from several DHS agencies as well as the State and Treasury departments, among others.
U.S. Visit terminals at airports and seaports transmit visual images and data to immigration officers within seconds of a traveler's presenting a visa at the border. 'There were several integrated teams from various agencies that literally met daily, in some cases seven days a week to implement this capability,' McCormack said.
'We are trying to integrate multiple IT components together' for U.S. Visit, in order to provide a one-desktop service, he noted.
'There were a lot of integrated process teams put together from our software development organization, from our infrastructure organization, from Immigration and Customs Enforcement's software development organization and from their infrastructure organization,' he said.
Some of CBP's U.S. Visit work involved the use of IBM Corp.'s WebSphere middleware, McCormack said. 'It was a major task to tie the information together,' he said. 'There was a lot of software reprogramming on our existing systems.'
CBP also is setting up a financial system built around commercial software from SAP America Inc. of Newtown Square, Pa. The SAP system will replace CBP's applications for property management, budgeting and requisition, among other functions, McCormack said.