SBInet Lives!

lemon-halves.gif If some convenient major news event isn't happening, then government officials like to use Friday afternoons to bury bad news or to make announcements that they don't want looked at too closely.

As I wrote on Friday, things were pretty quiet on the SBInet front, when, lo and behold, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Friday afternoon that it had conditionally accepted Boeing's border-surveillance system. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said that it was now going to run a 45-day operational system stress test before giving final acceptance.

However, I doubt that the stress test will result in failure, regardless of the real results. Along with this "conditional acceptance" Boeing was awarded a $64 million task order to design, develop and test an upgraded "common operating picture software system" for the Custom and Border Protection (CBP) command centers and agent vehicles to make the system more user friendly. Don't you think if there was any real doubt about accepting the system, the contract award would have been delayed for six weeks?

More likely, the system stress test is meant more to fend off Congressional criticism than as a means of generating information on which to make a final acceptance decision: i.e., dressing up the lemon.

As the Arizona Daily Star reported (subscription may be required), "After the 45 days, officials will put in orders for additional changes, Chertoff said. Full acceptance of the system depends on the results of the test run."

Furthermore, the paper said, that despite the lengthy delays and the doubling of costs in the launch of Boeing's pilot project, Chertoff said that DHS "isn't worried about Boeing designing and implementing similar systems along the rest of the border. 'We picked a particularly demanding area of the border, with a lot of ground clutter,' Chertoff said. 'So it should be a good kind of challenge,and some other parts of the border should be easy.' " I guess Chertoff nor the DHS have ever heard of software system scalability problems especially in using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components.

Boeing was also quoted as saying that that the company "learned valuable lessons" during the work that will reduce future risk. Of course, the whole project was sold as being low risk from the beginning, but who keeps track of those promises, right?


Risk Factor

IEEE Spectrum's risk analysis blog, featuring daily news, updates and analysis on computing and IT projects, software and systems failures, successes and innovations, security threats, and more.

Robert Charette
Spotsylvania, Va.
Willie D. Jones
New York City