Border Boletín: Scathing report on 'virtual' border fence

2010-03-18T12:15:00Z Border Boletín: Scathing report on 'virtual' border fenceBrady McCombs, Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 18, 2010 12:15 pm  • 

A Goverment Accountability Office report that went public Thursday morning offers details of the many problems with the SBInet “virtual fence” system.

Here's the link the full report — Secure Border Initiative: DHS needs to address testing and performance limitations that place key technology program at risk.

In case you missed it, on Monday the Department of Homeland Security announced it is freezing funds for future SBInet "virtual fence" systems and reallocating $50 million to other technologies. The announcement came two days before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security was set to address the issue at a hearing scheduled for Thursday. The GAO prepared a report to present at the hearing.

Here are some of the highlights of the GAO report:

• Officials rigged tests to try to ensure the system passed.

“A program office letter to the prime contractor stated that changes made to system qualification test cases and procedures appeared to be designed to  pass the test instead of being designed to qualify the system,” the GAO wrote.

• The number of problems being found with the system have outpaced the number fixed.

“From March 2008 through July 2009, about 1,300 SBInet defects have been found, with the number of new defects identified generally increasing faster than the number being fixed—a trend that is not indicative of a system that is maturing," the GAO wrote.            

"Further, while the full magnitude of these unresolved defects is unclear because the majority were not assigned a priority for resolution, several of the defects that have been found have been significant. Although DHS reports that these defects have been resolved, they have caused delays, and related problems have surfaced that continue to impact the program’s schedule.”

• During a spring 2009 test of the system, Border Patrol operators said the system was an improvement from the Project 28 test system, but still found several significant problems. They raised concerns about the accuracy of the radars, video quality from the cameras and said the cameras had half the range of cameras on Project 28 towers. Project 28 was Boeing’s test “virtual fence” system that went up flanking Sasabe, Ariz.

"While Border Patrol operators noted that Block 1 offered functionality above what Project 28 radar offers, this functionality was not adequate for optimal operational effectiveness when detecting items of interest. Moreover, users raised concerns about the accuracy of Block 1’s radar, and they characterized the range of Block 1 cameras as being operationally insufficient. Specifically, Block 1 cameras were assessed as having one-half the range of MSS’s cameras, and significantly less range than the Project 28 cameras," the GAO wrote.

"Further, Block 1’s video quality was assessed as being inconsistent. Regarding the COP, operators considered Block 1’s capabilities to be a significant improvement over both the Project 28 and MSS. However, they also raised concerns about the COP’s accuracy and the need for a number of relatively “small, but critical enhancements.”

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The  hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security was scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m Eastern: “SBInet: Does it Pass the Border Security Test?”

Here is a link to a story on the hearing: GAO: 70 Precent of SBInet Tests Skewed

Here is a summary of what was planned for the hearing:

Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism and Subcommittee on Management, Investigations, and Oversight JOINT Hearing

“SBInet: Does it Pass the Border Security Test?”

Witnesses:

Michael J. Fisher, Acting Chief, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security

Mark Borkowski, Executive Director, Secure Border Initiative Program Executive Office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security

Randolph C. Hite, Director, IT Architecture & Systems Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office

Timothy E. Peters, Vice President and General Manager, Global Security Systems, The Boeing Company

The purpose of the hearing is to receive testimony on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) efforts to secure the nation’s borders through the Secure Border Initiative (SBI) technology component known as SBInet.  The hearing will give Committee members an opportunity to question Department, Government Accountability Office (GAO), and private sector witnesses about the status of the program, with particular emphasis placed on testing of SBInet systems. 

There will be a webcast of this hearing

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