Last Friday, as reported by various media outlets like Government Executive and Fierce GovernmentIT, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the termination of the long-brain dead but still on life-support virtual fence project called SBInet (Secure Border Initiative network).
The termination notice finally came after spending another $230 million or so on the effort while a Secretary Napolitano January 2010 ordered panel conducted over the past year a DHS-wide reassessment of the SBInet program "that incorporated an independent, quantitative, science-based 'Analysis of Alternatives' to determine if SBInet is the most efficient, effective and economical way to meet our nation's border security needs."
Now with over $1 billion spent on SBInet, the assessment panel came to the following conclusion (see PDF):
"Based on the assessment, the Department has concluded the SBInet program, as originally proposed, does not meet current standards for viability and cost-effectiveness. While it has generated some advances in technology that have improved Border Patrol agents’ ability to detect, identify, deter and respond to threats along the border, SBInet does not and cannot provide a single technological solution to border security."
Have no fear, though:
"As a result, Secretary Napolitano has directed CBP [Customs and Border Protection] to end SBInet as originally conceived and instead utilize existing, proven technology solutions tailored to the distinct terrain and population density of each border region. This is a significant departure from the original SBInet concept of a single, one size fits all integrated fixed tower-based solution across the entire border."
Of course, when the SBInet contract was originally let to Boeing in September 2006, Boeing promised that it would use "proven, low risk, off-the-shelf technology," too.
What is going to happen instead of SBInet? Well, a sort of Son of SBInet:
"DHS is currently developing a comprehensive border technology deployment plan that will build upon successful technology currently deployed and provide the optimum mix of proven surveillance technologies by sector. Where appropriate, this technology plan will also include elements of the former SBInet program that have proven successful."
This "new way forward," DHS says, "is expected to cost less than $750 million and will cover the rest of the Arizona border - totaling 323 miles." SBInet only covered 53 miles.
Anyone want to bet that the "expected cost" and the final cost of SoSBInet will be less than $750 million?
It will take a while before the SoSBInet is deployed, since DHS plans to hold an open competition to acquire all the technologies needed. Before that can occur, however, more "independent, quantitative, science-based assessments" are needed to be performed.
Here's hoping that the acquisition process used by DHS will also use "independent, quantitative, science-based assessments" as well. SBInet's acquisition strategy and process was botched from the beginning, (see PDF) which started the program on its long and costly death spiral.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.