Congressional appropriators agreed to fully fund the Obama administration’s $351.5 million request for border security technology and infrastructure, including $77.4 million for a fixed surveillance tower program that is in the source selection phase.

However, House and Senate appropriators include language in the FY ’14 Omnibus Appropriations bill that restricts deployments of the Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT) until the Border Patrol Chief certifies that the surveillance system meets the Border Patrol’s requirements.

Remote Video Surveillance Systems used by CBP to track illegal border crossers. Photo: CBP
Remote Video Surveillance Systems used by CBP to track illegal border crossers. Photo: CBP

The Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency is currently reviewing a number of bids for the IFT program and is expected to select a prime contractor early this year. The surveillance towers will consist of ground radar and a combination of day and night cameras along with the related communications equipment to enable the systems to relay data back to command centers located at Border Patrol Stations.

The direction to have the Border Patrol certify that the IFTs meet their operational requirements stems from failings in a predecessor program, the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet), to adequately include the Border Patrol in the requirements process. Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano terminated SBInet, which was being integrated by Boeing [BA], in favor of a fresh start and mix of different types of technologies.

The new technologies include remote video surveillance systems, mobile surveillance towers, portable radar systems, and the IFTs, which are essentially the same systems as the fixed surveillance towers deployed under SBInet, although CBP plans to purchase fewer of them.

The approved funding for the Border Security Fence, Infrastructure, and Technology (BSFIT) account also includes $40 million for land mobile radio tactical communications systems, which are the primary communications systems used by more than 44,000 CBP agents and officers. The funds will be used to upgrade and expand the legacy analog handheld radios in favor of digital technology that provides enhanced encryption, expanded coverage and capacity, and interoperability.

Bill language within the BSFIT account says that the eight Tethered Aerostat Radar Systems (TARS) that were transferred from the Defense Department to CBP last July “are cost effective and valuable tools for maintaining persistent surveillance of the border.” The bill directs CBP to brief congressional appropriators on whether a different configuration of TARS could be useful in Puerto Rico or elsewhere along the southern and maritime borders. The administration had requested $37.4 million for TARS in FY ’14.

The appropriators also provided funds to enable CBP to hire 2,000 new officers for use at the nation’s busiest ports of entry. The administration had requested 1,600 new CBP Officers.

The bill also includes $112 million for CBP’s Non-Intrusive Detection program, which funds the X-Ray and related systems typically used to screen cargo and vehicles entering the United States. The funding shifts the program to an operations and maintenance mode that will rely on currently fielded equipment. CBP had requested $112.5 million for the program.