Plan to se­cure U.S. bor­ders still ‘am­bigu­ous’

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security - BY JERRY SEPER

A mul­ti­year, multi­bil­lion-dol­lar Home­land Se­cu­rity plan to bet­ter se­cure the na­tion’s bor­ders by giv­ing front-line agents up­dated sur­veil­lance sys­tems, en­hanced com­mu­ni­ca­tions and im­proved in­tel­li­gence tech­nolo­gies re­mains “am­bigu­ous and in a con­tin­ued state of flux,” a gov­ern­ment re­port said.

The Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice (GAO) said last week it is “un­clear and un­cer­tain” what tech­nol­ogy ca­pa­bil­i­ties will be de­liv­ered when the pro­gram, known as the Se­cure Bor­der Ini­tia­tive, is fully de­ployed along the na­tion’s South­west bor­der — in­clud­ing the Se­cure Bor­der Ini­tia­tive Net­work, or SBInet, which fo­cuses on bet­ter se­cur­ing the bor­der through tech­nol­ogy and in­fra­struc­ture.

The GAO said SBInet test­ing has not been ef­fec­tively man­aged.

“SBInet will in­te­grate the lat­est tech­nol­ogy and in­fra­struc­ture to in­ter­dict il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and stop threats at­tempt­ing to cross bor­ders,” Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Michael Chertoff said in an­nounc­ing the pro­gram. “This strate­gic part­ner­ship al­lows the depart­ment to ex­ploit pri­vate-sec­tor in­ge­nu­ity and ex­per­tise to quickly se­cure our na­tion’s bor­ders.”

In Novem­ber 2005, Home­land Se­cu­rity es­tab­lished the SBI pro- gram, es­ti­mat­ing a to­tal cost for the ac­qui­si­tion phase on the South­west bor­der at $7.6 bil­lion for fis­cal 2007 through 2011.

About $5.1 bil­lion was set aside for the de­sign, de­vel­op­ment, in­te­gra­tion and de­ploy­ment of fenc­ing, roads, ve­hi­cle bar­ri­ers, sen­sors, radar units, and com­mand, con­trol and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and other equip­ment, and $2.5 bil­lion for in­te­grated lo­gis­tics and op­er­a­tions sup­port.

Work on the north­ern bor­der is not pro­jected to be­gin be­fore fis­cal 2009.

But the GAO said in its re­port that the scope and tim­ing of the planned SBInet de­ploy­ments and ca­pa­bil­i­ties have con­tin­ued to change since the pro­gram be­gan and, even now, are not clear.

“The pro­gram of­fice does not have an ap­proved in­te­grated mas­ter sched­ule to guide the ex­e­cu­tion of the pro­gram, and GAO’s as­sim­i­la­tion of avail­able in­for­ma­tion in­di­cates that the sched­ule has con­tin­ued to change,” the agency said.

“This sched­ule-re­lated risk is ex­ac­er­bated by the con­tin­u­ous change in and the ab­sence of a clear def­i­ni­tion of the ap­proach that is be­ing used to de­fine, de- velop, ac­quire, test and de­ploy SBInet,” it said. “The ab­sence of clar­ity and sta­bil­ity [. . . ] im­pairs the abil­ity of the Congress to over­see the pro­gram and hold [Home­land Se­cu­rity] ac­count­able for pro­gram re­sults, and it ham­pers DHS’s abil­ity to mea­sure pro­gram progress.”

Ac­cord­ing to the GAO, SBInet re­quire­ments have not been ef­fec­tively de­fined or man­aged. The agency said that while the pro­gram of­fice re­cently is­sued guid­ance that de­fines key prac­tices as­so­ci­ated with ef­fec­tively de­vel­op­ing and manag­ing re­quire­ments, the guid­ance was de­vel­oped only af­ter sev­eral key ac­tiv­i­ties had been com­pleted.

In re­sponse to nu­mer­ous rec­om­men­da­tions out­lined in the GAO re­port, Home­land Se­cu­rity re­ferred the mat­ter to its bor­der en­force­ment agency, U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion (CBP), say­ing that when it con­firmed what ac­tions CBP has taken in re­sponse to the rec­om­men­da­tions, “we will pro­vide up­dated in­for­ma­tion.”

CBP Com­mis­sioner W. Ralph Basham de­fended the pro­gram ear­lier this month dur­ing a House hear­ing, say­ing his agency was in no hurry to de­ploy some­thing that did not work.

He said that while SBInet “is not without prob­lems, it is not a fail­ure,” and that the agency’s “com­mit­ment to get it right” has never been stronger.

In its re­port, the GAO said that in the ab­sence of ef­fec­tive guid­ance, the pro­gram has not en­sured that dif­fer­ent lev­els of re­quire­ments are prop­erly aligned. It said a “large per­cent­age” of pro­gram re­quire­ments could not be traced and that some of SBInet’s op­er­a­tional re­quire­ments were found by an in­de­pen­dent re­view to be “un­af­ford­able and un­ver­i­fi­able.”

“As a re­sult, the risk of SBInet not meet­ing mis­sion needs and per­form­ing as in­tended is in­creased, as are the chances of ex­pen­sive and time-con­sum­ing sys­tem re­work,” the agency said. “The pro­gram of­fice has not tested the in­di­vid­ual sys­tem com­po­nents to be de­ployed to the ini­tial de­ploy­ment lo­ca­tions, even though the con­trac­tor ini­ti­ated in­te­gra­tion test­ing of th­ese com­po­nents with other sys­tem com­po­nents and sub­sys­tems in June 2008.”

While a test man­age­ment strat­egy was drafted in May, the GAO said it has not been fi­nal­ized and ap­proved, and it does not con­tain, among other things, a clear def­i­ni­tion of test­ing roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties; a high-level mas­ter sched­ule of SBInet test ac­tiv­i­ties; or suf­fi­cient de­tail to ef­fec­tively guide project-spe­cific test plan­ning.

“Without a struc­tured and dis­ci­plined ap­proach to test­ing, the risk that SBInet will not sat­isfy user needs and op­er­a­tional re­quire­ments, thus re­quir­ing sys­tem re­work, is in­creased,” the GAO said.

Giv­ing them some help: CBP

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