By Calvin Biesecker

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) new plan to deploy various technologies along the nation’s southern border that are tailored to specific Border Patrol Sector needs won’t be completed until some time between 2021 and 2026, a government audit official said yesterday.

The deployment end date depends on different estimates, Richard Stanna, director of Homeland Security and Justice with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told a House panel.

When the original border security technology plan was conceived and eventually contracted for in 2006, DHS had expected the deployment along the southwest border to be finished this year or next (Defense Daily, Sept. 22, 2006, and Feb. 22, 2007).

The deployment of various sensor technologies that will be used to help the Border Patrol conduct surveillance along Arizona’s stretch of the border with Mexico won’t be completed until 2015 or early 2016, Stanna told the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security. After that, the technology will be rolled out to sectors in Texas, New Mexico and California that share borders with Mexico.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), a member of the subcommittee, said that the projected end date for the southern border technology deployment is a long ways off despite the fact that much of the technology to be purchased is already in use by the U.S. military. He asked if the project can be accelerated given the “crisis” situation at the border.

Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner of Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition, said the new technology plan has flexibility “to adapt as the threat evolves” and shift deployments accordingly. He also said that the technology such as the IFT systems is already available, but that it comes down to where to deploy the systems first.

McCaul said his constituents won’t “accept that message” that it will be 10 to 15 years before the border is secure.

DHS in January said that it was terminating the current border security technology program for the Southwest United States, called the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet), that was largely based on network of fixed towers equipped with integrated cameras and radars situated along most of the border (Defense Daily, Jan. 18).

SBInet, which is operational in two border stretches in Arizona and is receiving good reviews from Border Patrol agents there who use the system, also includes a common operating picture at two border stations for viewing sensor data that can be used for command and control. In fact, the operational sections of SBInet will be upgraded with laser rangefinder technology that will also be useful to the Border Patrol, Stanna said.

Boeing [BA] is the prime contractor for SBInet. CBP has maintained that technologies to be purchased under the new acquisition plan will be done through full and open competitions.

The new technology plan includes Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT) that will feed into a COP, just like SBInet, but on a smaller scale in terms of numbers. The plan also includes other technologies such as Remote Video Surveillance Systems that are mounted either on poles or existing structures, Mobile Surveillance Systems, Agent Portable Surveillance Systems, unattended ground sensors, thermal imaging devices and unmanned aircraft systems.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano decided to end SBInet because of schedule delays and cost overruns and because DHS decided that a mix of technology assets would be better suited to improve border security.

CBP, the agency that includes the Border Patrol, plans to begin purchasing the new mix of technologies in FY ’11 with $185 million, excluding the IFTs. CBP has asked Congress for $242 million in FY ’12 to purchase IFTs for three of five Border Patrol Sectors in Arizona.

The IFT deployments are slated to begin in March 2013, Stanna said. CBP’s final plan for the Arizona technology deployment was expected to be ready this month, but now won’t be ready until July, Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), chairman of the House panel, said.

The total cost for the IFTs in Arizona is pegged at $570 million and the overall cost of the mix of technologies for the state is expected to be $755 million, Stanna said.

The decision to go forward with a new technology plan for the southwest border instead of continuing with SBInet was made by the Border Patrol and informed in part by an Analysis of Alternatives (AoA), Borkowski said.

Anticipating Stanna’s testimony, Borkowski said the AoA was not “conclusive or determinative” but helped establish a process to “frame decisions” by the Border Patrol. Borkowski said that while there are some “differences” with GAO regarding their view of the process used to arrive at a decision for the new technology plan, the program remains a “work in progress” and that ultimately it will be worth it.

Stanna raised several concerns regarding the AoA as well as how DHS decided to go forward with its new technology plan. He said the AoA was completed quickly and was limited in scope. The analysis doesn’t clearly put forth cost-effective technology alternatives for particular border areas, Stanna said.

He also said that it’s unclear how the AoA was used to inform the Border Patrol’s assessment on its technology needs, saying that GAO is still awaiting receipt of the documentation here.

Stanna also said that the Army Test and Evaluation Center was supposed to test the effectiveness and suitability of the Block 1 version of SBInet, but that those results were not completed before the Border Patrol completed its operational assessment on technology needs and Napolitano made her decision to end the program. He said these test results would be useful to help with the IFT portion of the new technology plan.