Border Security: Different Names, Same Problems

The Department of Homeland Security has given its electronic surveillance program a new name and has adopted a more systematic approach to fix lingering problems.

The name for the federal electronic surveillance program designed to protect the nations borders keeps changing as the cost of the technology rises, but some of the same problems haunt the program from name to name.

The Department of Homeland Securitys recently launched SBI (Secure Border Initiative) replaces the ASI (Americas Shield Initiative), which in 2004 replaced the ISIS (Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System) that was run by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Name du jour aside, the surveillance program envisions an elaborate web of sensors, cameras and databases deployed to detect illegal breaches along the borders with Mexico and Canada.

As of last September, the program had cost $340.3 million, according to a recently released report by the Government Accountability Office.

Approximately 11,200 sensors had been installed, but only about 4 percent of the border was covered by the programs technology.

ASI, which absorbed ISIS in the spring of 2005, was meant to address the limitations on its predecessor, but it ended up being a case study in limitations itself.

The Investment Review Board at DHS found that the program suffered from poorly defined relationships with other programs and that it did not address its impact on other DHS initiatives.

In a report to members of Congress on Feb. 22, the GAO said that the ASI program suffered from poor management as well. By August 2005, the program had 30 positions filled, but only three of them had defined roles and responsibilities, and acquisition processes and contract oversight had not been defined.

"As a result, the program risked repeating the inadequate contract management oversight that led to a number of problems in deploying, and operating and maintaining ISIS technology," the GAO reported.

/zimages/4/28571.gifThe State Department launches Internet task force. Click here to read more.

In response to the GAO critique, Steven Pecinovsky, director of the Departmental GAO/OIG Liaison Office at DHS, said that the SBI will trade its predecessors technology-driven approach for a systematic approach.

Program managers in DHSs Office of Information and Technology will supervise the acquisition of new technology, he said.

A request for proposal to systems integrators is scheduled to go out in March, and the department expects to award a contract in September, he said.

"As the SBI concept evolved during the latter months of 2005, it became clear that continuing ASI, a technology-driven approach, would provide only a partial solution," Pecinovsky said.

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