Inspector General: Homeland Security Failed in Oversight of SBInet Contractor

Boeing got away with an awful lot as the prime contractor on the border-protection network.
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Boeing got away with an awful lot as the prime contractor on the border-protection network.

Boeing got away with an awful lot as the prime contractor on SBInet, the problem-plagued program of sensors and cameras that is supposed to serve as the high-tech component of America's Secure Border Initiative, a report from the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General charges.

Customs and Border Protection needs to step up control of the contractor, the IG said in the July 9 report that was primarily based on four task orders in 2008 totaling $267 million.

"Specifically, program officials did not ensure that contractors maintain up-to-date information in the primary management tool designed to provide managers with advance information regarding potential cost overruns and program progress," the report said. "In addition, SBInet program officials did not ensure that a program event was properly completed before progressing to the next event and did not adequately document their review and acceptance of accomplishments and criteria at program events. Finally, the low number of government personnel to oversee contractor activities increased the SBInet program office’s risk that program cost and schedule could not be adequately managed."

On the bright side, CBP has taken steps to improve oversight by using the Defense Contracting Management Agency personnel and reissuing important program documentation, the report said. This year, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano put the brakes on the program and ordered thorough evaluation to consider all options.

The report is just the latest hit on SBInet, which has been under attack from immigration-control advocates and lawmakers of both parties for its slow pace and failure to live up to its high-tech promises. Past problems have included tower sway in high winds, cluttered data from radar, and computer crashes. Some lawmakers have suggested scrapping the whole thing, and even CBP officials have questioned whether the network is the best use of funds in the mission to secure the northern and southern borders.

Last winter, the Government Accoutability Office said that some 70 percent of tests to measure the progress of SBInet had been skewed to show more favorable results.

The latest report recommends better staffing for contractor oversight and the implementation of a more effective system of review. The complete IG report is here.

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