The over-budget, under-performing multi-billion SBInet, which had only been deployed over 53 miles of border in four years, will be replaced with a more geographically tailored approach.

J. Nicholas Hoover, Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

January 14, 2011

3 Min Read

Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters

Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters


(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters

The Department of Homeland Security Friday announced that it will end an over-budget, under-performing "virtual fence" that aimed to secure the U.S.-Mexico border and replace it with a more modest and geographically tailored effort.

The project, known as SBInet, has cost about $1 billion thus far, but has only accounted for 53 miles of virtual fence along the Arizona-Mexico border. DHS had been considering major changes to the project since at least last January, when Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano ordered a major assessment of SBInet and viable alternatives.

Also last year, Napolitano froze money for the expansion of SBInet beyond its deployment along the highly trafficked Arizona-Mexico border, and denied SBInet $50 million in funding that had been included in the stimulus package.

Going forward, DHS will replace SBInet with a new plan that uses existing technology "tailored to the distinct terrain and population density of each border region," Napolitano said in a statement. This will include the use of UAVs, mobile surveillance, thermal imaging, and remote video surveillance, as well as some successful elements of SBInet, like stationary radar.

Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters

Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters


(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters

"The new plan complements the Administration’s unprecedented investments in manpower, infrastructure, and resources along the Southwest border and will utilize funding previously requested for SBInet and provided in the continuing resolution," Napolitano said.

Last year's review, which combined a science-based review with the input of technology experts and U.S. Border Patrol agents, determined that SBInet would have been unable to meet its original goals. The report, which found that certain elements of the SBInet deployment were successful, also determined that SBInet's one-size-fits-all approach wouldn't be viable along the entire U.S.-Mexico border.

Report after report had shown the project's failures, beginning soon after the initial $2.5 billion contract was issued to Boeing in September 2006. Typical is a May 2010 report, in which the Government Accountability Office said that the project's capabilities "have continued to shrink from what the department committed to deliver."

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the ranking member of the House committee on homeland security, who has previously expressed concern about SBInet's problems, applauded the move in a statement. "The SBInet has been a grave and expensive disappointment since its inception," he said. His committee had held no less than 11 hearings on the project and commissioned five reports from the GAO since its inception.

DHS hinted at the project's impending demise in announcing a 30-day extension of Boeing's contract last month, saying that the agency would move forward with a "new approach to southwest border technology" as soon as it secured funding for this fiscal year. Boeing's contract will continue through at least September 2011 to support other, non-SBInet activities along the southern border.

About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

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