SAN ANTONIO, Texas—To meet rapidly evolving threats on the nation’s borders, the Border Patrol wants to obtain new technologies and capabilities faster than ever using non-traditional procurement processes so that front line operators can evaluate what works for them and what doesn’t and then move quickly into acquiring systems to be deployed, a Border Patrol agent said this week.
“One of the biggest challenges we have is putting stuff in the hands of the operators as soon as we can,” Kelly Good, deputy executive director for the Border Patrol’s Program Management Office, said at the annual Border Security Expo here. “Historically, with SBI and several other programs, those big acquisitions would take way to long.”
SBI refers to the Secure Border Initiative Network that went through several iterations and took years to develop and was ultimately terminated by the Department of Homeland Security after a limited deployment.
Good said that the Border Patrol, which is a division of Customs and Border Protection that patrols between ports of entry on the nation’s northern and southern land borders, already acquired small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) using rapid acquisition approaches, apparently unbeknownst to some providers of the technology.
“Industry probably looked at that and said, ‘Wait a minute, we didn’t see an RFP come out,’” he said, referring to the traditional Request for Proposals that contains requirements and starts the clock ticking for when bids are due.
“We didn’t use an RFP on that one,” Good said as part of a panel discussion on border security. “We went with an RFI, and we went directly with DLA.”
An RFI, a Request for Information, is typically used by government to conduct market research on industry capabilities and to receive feedback from vendors about the feasibility of user requirements. The DLA is the Defense Department’s Defense Logistics Agency, which provides combat logistics support and maintains stock items numbers that other agencies can use to acquire products.
According to budget documents that DHS provided to Congress last week detailing its funding needs for fiscal year 2020, CBP has acquired or is acquiring 100 vertical take-off-and-landing and 10 fixed-wing sUAS and plans to buy another 50 fixed-wing sUAS next year.
Good said he will continue using “innovative” ways to purchase capabilities and get them into the hands of users.
In addition to taking advantage of the DLA, Good said he’ll be using the General Services Administration’s (GSA) acquisition schedules, the DHS Science and Technology Directorate’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program, and other transaction authorities that enable the rapid purchasing of systems, services and capabilities.
Later, during a media roundtable, Good said the rapid acquisition approach will be leveraged for an upcoming procurement of mobile surveillance technology that will be deployed to enhance border security and consolidate existing capabilities provided by different mobile solutions. He mentioned that it took about three years to acquire the Mobile Video Surveillance System from Tactical Micro, which is now part of Benchmark Electronics.
Through RFI’s and initial publishing draft requirements, CBP telegraphed its plans for the Mobile Modular Surveillance System (M2S2) for the Border Patrol. Based on industry exhibits at the expo of their M2S2 offerings, Good said vendors have “listened.”
He said he told vendors a year ago to build him a capability they think will work for the Border Patrol to meet their M2S2 needs without building to required specifications.
The Border Patrol has already acquired multiple units of a system that FLIR Systems [FLIR] has developed with its own funds to meet the M2S2 requirements and these will be used for testing and evaluation by operators, Good said. The Border Patrol will buy systems from other vendors as they become ready for the same testing and evaluation, he said during the roundtable.
Testing of each company’s systems will take about six months and evaluations will be around reliability, operational effectiveness, cost, the ability to manufacture and deliver on a schedule and then the Border Patrol will make a decision, on what it wants and purchase the systems off a GSA schedule.
“So, something that used to take me 18 months to do, MVSS took me three years, I’m taking down to six to seven-month timeframe,” he said. “Now that is all dependent on how fast can they build what they say they can build. That’s their manufacturing.”
If one a vendor isn’t on a GSA schedule, Good said that GSA is working with vendors to quickly get them on a schedule. During the panel presentation, Good had a GSA official stand up, introduce herself, so that she could tell industry representatives the GSA is ready to work with them.
FLIR is exhibiting at the expo but only had a large photo of its Lightweight Vehicle Surveillance System mounted on the back of a Ford F150 pickup truck, a staple of the Border Patrol, for attendees to view. The company has sold a truck-mounted surveillance system to the Border Patrol called the Mobile Surveillance Capability. Benchmark, Elbit Systems of America, part of Israel’s Elbit Systems [ESLT]. Elta North America, which is part of Israel Aerospace Industries, Strongwatch, and Peak Industries are exhibiting M2S2-type systems at the event that they also developed with their own funds.
The Border Patrol wants the M2S2 systems to be configurable with different electro-optic and infrared cameras and radars that extend upward from a truck bed and can retract or fold inside the bed as a covert feature.
Good said he doesn’t know yet when the testing regime will finish for vendors.