Heritage Foundation: Don’t Scrap SBInet

Its own executive director compares multiple iterations of it to successive versions of Microsoft Windows.
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It’s years behind schedule and way over budget, with a single contractor making the money in a non-competitive bidding process. Its own executive director compares multiple iterations of it to successive versions of Microsoft Windows, and one of its stumped technician even called up Government Video magazine seeking advice on low-latency video transmission.

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Jena Baker McNeill

Earlier this year, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano put the brakes on SBInet, the “virtual border fence” of cameras and sensors that’s creeping along like a desert tortoise, with little apparent effect on illegal border crossing.

That followed a scathing report from the Government Accountability Office that 70 percent of test results were deliberately skewed to provide better grades for the project.

But a prominent conservative Washington think tank, the Heritage Foundation (which has received funding from Boeing, the prime SBInet contractor), figures keeping the project going is the right way to go,

In a recent report, Heritage Foundation Policy Analyst Jena Baker McNeill calls for the nation to save SBInet. The decision to scrap the plan makes no sense, she argues in a May 20 memo.

“Given some of the problems that have occurred with SBInet—a program to deploy cameras, sensors, and radar technology at the southwest border—a review could help improve the program,” her memo says. “Abandoning SBInet altogether, however, would be a complete waste of resources."

In McNeill's view, the Bush administration over-promised the abilities of SBInet, and was hindered by “legal and regulatory obstacles” along with technical problems.

“Ironically, while DHS was finally getting the project on track, the political leadership of DHS began walking away from the program," McNeill wrote.

The Bush Administration made the major investments of fencing and manpower, the memo says, and it's now time for the Obama Administration to follow these changes with the right technologies to fill the remaining gaps.

What’s needed? The government needs to revamp DHS management of large programs, McNeill wrote. And, the government should avoid any “amnesty-based” immigration reform that could provide paths to legal presence for undocumented workers already here.

McNeill’s professional career highlights before joining Heritage include work as a research assistant for Hutchinson Group LLC, a firm founded by former Congressman and DHS Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson; environmental management consultant for Booz Allen Hamilto; staff assistant for former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr; roles on “several high-profile gubernatorial and congressional campaigns”; and an internship with Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.). She also clerked for the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust issues, according to the Heritage Foundation website.

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