Secure Border Initiative:

DHS Needs to Reconsider Its Proposed Investment in Key Technology Program

GAO-10-340: Published: May 5, 2010. Publicly Released: Jun 17, 2010.

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The technology component of the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Secure Border Initiative (SBI), referred to as SBInet, is to put observing systems along our nation's borders and provide Border Patrol command centers with the imagery and related tools and information needed in deciding whether to deploy agents. SBInet is being acquired and deployed in incremental blocks of capability, with the first block to cost about $1.3 billion. Because of the program's importance, size, and challenges, GAO was asked to, among other things, determine the extent to which DHS has (1) defined the scope of its proposed SBInet solution, (2) developed a reliable schedule for this solution, (3) demonstrated the cost-effectiveness of this solution, and (4) acquired the solution using key management processes. To do this, GAO compared key program documentation to relevant guidance and industry practices.

DHS has defined the scope of the first incremental block of SBInet capabilities; however, these capabilities have continued to shrink from what the department previously committed to deliver. For example, the geographical "footprint" of the initially deployed capability has been reduced from three border sectors spanning about 655 miles to two sectors spanning about 387 miles. Further, the stringency of the performance capabilities has been relaxed, to the point that, for example, system performance will be deemed acceptable if it identifies less than 50 percent of items of interest that cross the border. The result is a system that is unlikely to live up to expectations. DHS has not developed a reliable integrated master schedule for delivering the first block of SBInet. Specifically, the schedule does not sufficiently comply with seven of nine key practices that relevant guidance states are important to having a reliable schedule. For example, the schedule does not adequately capture all necessary activities, assign resources to them, and reflect schedule risks. As a result, it is unclear when the first block will be completed, and continued delays are likely. DHS has also not demonstrated the cost-effectiveness of this first system block. In particular, it has not reliably estimated the costs of this block over its entire life cycle. To do so requires DHS to ensure that the estimate meets key practices that relevant guidance states are important to having an estimate that is comprehensive, well-documented, accurate, and credible. However, DHS's cost estimate for the initial block does not sufficiently possess any of these characteristics. Further, DHS has yet to identify expected benefits from the initial block, whether quantitative or qualitative, and analyze them relative to costs. As a result, it does not know whether its planned investment will produce mission value commensurate with costs. DHS has also not acquired the initial SBInet block in accordance with key life cycle management processes. While processes associated with, among other things, requirements development and management and risk management, have been adequately defined, they have not been adequately implemented. For example, key risks have not been captured in the risk management repository and thus have not been proactively mitigated. As a result, DHS is at increased risk of delivering a system that does not perform as intended. SBInet's decreasing scope, uncertain timing, unclear value proposition, and limited life cycle management discipline and rigor are due to a range of factors, including limitations in both defined requirements and the capabilities of commercially available system components, as well as the need to address competing program priorities, such as meeting aggressive system deployment milestones. As a result, it remains unclear whether the department's pursuit of SBInet is a cost effective course of action, and if it is, that it will produce expected results on time and within budget.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Between August 2007 and January 2010 GAO had ongoing conversations with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials regarding a range of management weaknesses and program risks--including continued schedule slippages and uncertain program costs and justification--associated with the design, development, and deployment of DHS's Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet). In January 2010, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered a department-wide assessment of the SBInet program to include an analysis of other potential alternatives for addressing security on the southwest border. The Secretary's decision was motivated in part by continuing delays in the development and deployment of SBInet capabilities and concerns that the SBInet system had not been adequately justified by a quantitative assessment of cost and benefits. On March 16, 2010, eleven days after receiving a draft of our report which contained this recommendation, DHS Secretary Napolitano froze fiscal year 2010 funding for any development or deployment work beyond the first two SBInet installations, pending the results of the department-wide assessment. At that time, she also redirected $35 million of Recovery Act funding originally allocated for SBInet technology to other border technology. Subsequently, on August 13, 2010, Congress rescinded $100,000,000 of the frozen funds from SBInet. In addition, on October 4, 2010, DHS redirected another $11 million of frozen funds, plus an additional $30 million of operations and maintenance funds, from SBInet to legacy fencing. In January 2011, DHS completed its assessment of SBInet and, based on the results, Secretary Napolitano decided to end SBInet as originally conceived.

    Recommendation: To address the considerable risks and uncertainties facing DHS on its SBInet program, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to limit future investment in the program to only work that meets one or both of the following two conditions: (1) is already under contract and supports deployment, acceptance, and operational evaluation of only those Block 1 capabilities (functions and performance levels) that are currently targeted for Tucson Border Patrol Station (TUS-1) and Ajo Border Patrol Station (AJO-1); or (2) provides the analytical basis for informing a departmental decision as to what, if any, expanded investment in SBInet, both in terms of capabilities (functions and performance) and deployment locations, represents a prudent, responsible, and affordable use of resources for achieving the department's border security and immigration management mission.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security initiated an assessment of the SBInet program. The assessment was motivated in part by continuing delays in the development and deployment of SBInet capabilities and concerns that the SBInet system had not been adequately justified by a quantitative assessment of cost and benefits. Between January 2010 and January 2011, we reported on a variety of management weaknesses that contributed to the Secretary's concerns, including inadequate acquisition management practices -- test management, requirements management, and risk management -- shrinking system capabilities, and the lack of effective contractor oversight and economic justification for the program; and we made associated recommendations with which DHS largely agreed. In January 2011, DHS completed its assessment and decided to end SBInet as originally conceived. We consider DHS's decision to discontinue the SBInet program a prudent course of action, and responsive to the many recommendations we made to address the wide array of identified weaknesses.

    Recommendation: To address the considerable risks and uncertainties facing DHS on its SBInet program, with respect to the condition of the program's work being already under contract and supporting deployment, acceptance, and operational evaluation of only those Block 1 capabilities (functions and performance levels) that are currently targeted for TUS-1 and AJO-1 to limit future investment, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to have the SBI Executive Director make it a program priority to ensure that the integrated master schedule for delivering Block 1 capabilities to TUS-1 and AJO-1 is revised to address the key schedule estimating practices discussed in this report.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security initiated an assessment of the SBInet program. The assessment was motivated in part by continuing delays in the development and deployment of SBInet capabilities and concerns that the SBInet system had not been adequately justified by a quantitative assessment of cost and benefits. Between January 2010 and January 2011, we reported on a variety of management weaknesses that contributed to the Secretary's concerns, including inadequate acquisition management practices -- test management, requirements management, and risk management -- shrinking system capabilities, and the lack of effective contractor oversight and economic justification for the program; and we made associated recommendations with which DHS largely agreed. In January 2011, DHS completed its assessment and decided to end SBInet as originally conceived. We consider DHS's decision to discontinue the SBInet program a prudent course of action, and responsive to the many recommendations we made to address the wide array of identified weaknesses.

    Recommendation: To address the considerable risks and uncertainties facing DHS on its SBInet program, with respect to the condition of the program's work being already under contract and supporting deployment, acceptance, and operational evaluation of only those Block 1 capabilities (functions and performance levels) that are currently targeted for TUS-1 and AJO-1 to limit future investment, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to have the SBI Executive Director make it a program priority to ensure that the currently defined Block 1 requirements, including key performance parameters, are independently validated as complete, verifiable, and affordable and any limitations found in the requirements are addressed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security initiated an assessment of the SBInet program. The assessment was motivated in part by continuing delays in the development and deployment of SBInet capabilities and concerns that the SBInet system had not been adequately justified by a quantitative assessment of cost and benefits. Between January 2010 and January 2011, we reported on a variety of management weaknesses that contributed to the Secretary's concerns, including inadequate acquisition management practices -- test management, requirements management, and risk management -- shrinking system capabilities, and the lack of effective contractor oversight and economic justification for the program; and we made associated recommendations with which DHS largely agreed. In January 2011, DHS completed its assessment and decided to end SBInet as originally conceived. We consider DHS's decision to discontinue the SBInet program a prudent course of action, and responsive to the many recommendations we made to address the wide array of identified weaknesses.

    Recommendation: To address the considerable risks and uncertainties facing DHS on its SBInet program, with respect to the condition of the program's work being already under contract and supporting deployment, acceptance, and operational evaluation of only those Block 1 capabilities (functions and performance levels) that are currently targeted for TUS-1 and AJO-1 to limit future investment, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to have the SBI Executive Director make it a program priority to ensure that the Systems Engineering Plan is revised to include or reference documentation templates for key artifacts required at milestone gate reviews.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security initiated an assessment of the SBInet program. The assessment was motivated in part by continuing delays in the development and deployment of SBInet capabilities and concerns that the SBInet system had not been adequately justified by a quantitative assessment of cost and benefits. Between January 2010 and January 2011, we reported on a variety of management weaknesses that contributed to the Secretary's concerns, including inadequate acquisition management practices -- test management, requirements management, and risk management -- shrinking system capabilities, and the lack of effective contractor oversight and economic justification for the program; and we made associated recommendations with which DHS largely agreed. In January 2011, DHS completed its assessment and decided to end SBInet as originally conceived. We consider DHS's decision to discontinue the SBInet program a prudent course of action, and responsive to the many recommendations we made to address the wide array of identified weaknesses.

    Recommendation: To address the considerable risks and uncertainties facing DHS on its SBInet program, with respect to the condition of the program's work being already under contract and supporting deployment, acceptance, and operational evaluation of only those Block 1 capabilities (functions and performance levels) that are currently targeted for TUS-1 and AJO-1 to limit future investment, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to have the SBI Executive Director make it a program priority to ensure that all parent requirements that have been closed are supported by evidence of the closure of all corresponding and associated child requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security initiated an assessment of the SBInet program. The assessment was motivated in part by continuing delays in the development and deployment of SBInet capabilities and concerns that the SBInet system had not been adequately justified by a quantitative assessment of cost and benefits. Between January 2010 and January 2011, we reported on a variety of management weaknesses that contributed to the Secretary's concerns, including inadequate acquisition management practices -- test management, requirements management, and risk management -- shrinking system capabilities, and the lack of effective contractor oversight and economic justification for the program; and we made associated recommendations with which DHS largely agreed. In January 2011, DHS completed its assessment and decided to end SBInet as originally conceived. We consider DHS's decision to discontinue the SBInet program a prudent course of action, and responsive to the many recommendations we made to address the wide array of identified weaknesses.

    Recommendation: To address the considerable risks and uncertainties facing DHS on its SBInet program, with respect to the condition of the program's work being already under contract and supporting deployment, acceptance, and operational evaluation of only those Block 1 capabilities (functions and performance levels) that are currently targeted for TUS-1 and AJO-1 to limit future investment, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to have the SBI Executive Director make it a program priority to ensure that all significant risks facing the program are captured, mitigated, tracked, and periodically reported to DHS and congressional decision makers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security initiated an assessment of the SBInet program. The assessment was motivated in part by continuing delays in the development and deployment of SBInet capabilities and concerns that the SBInet system had not been adequately justified by a quantitative assessment of cost and benefits. Between January 2010 and January 2011, we reported on a variety of management weaknesses that contributed to the Secretary's concerns, including inadequate acquisition management practices -- test management, requirements management, and risk management -- shrinking system capabilities, and the lack of effective contractor oversight and economic justification for the program; and we made associated recommendations with which DHS largely agreed. In January 2011, DHS completed its assessment and decided to end SBInet as originally conceived. We consider DHS's decision to discontinue the SBInet program a prudent course of action, and responsive to the many recommendations we made to address the wide array of identified weaknesses.

    Recommendation: To address the considerable risks and uncertainties facing DHS on its SBInet program, with respect to the condition of the program's work providing the analytical basis for informing a departmental decision as to what, if any, expanded investment in SBInet, both in terms of capabilities (functions and performance) and deployment locations, represents a prudent, responsible, and affordable use of resources for achieving the department's border security and immigration management mission to limit future investment in the program, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to have the SBI Executive Director make it a program priority to ensure that a life cycle cost estimate for any incremental block of SBInet capabilities that is to include capabilities and cover locations beyond those associated with the TUS-1 and AJO-1 deployments is developed in a manner that reflects the four characteristics of a reliable estimate discussed in this report.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security initiated an assessment of the SBInet program. The assessment was motivated in part by continuing delays in the development and deployment of SBInet capabilities and concerns that the SBInet system had not been adequately justified by a quantitative assessment of cost and benefits. Between January 2010 and January 2011, we reported on a variety of management weaknesses that contributed to the Secretary's concerns, including inadequate acquisition management practices -- test management, requirements management, and risk management -- shrinking system capabilities, and the lack of effective contractor oversight and economic justification for the program; and we made associated recommendations with which DHS largely agreed. In January 2011, DHS completed its assessment and decided to end SBInet as originally conceived. We consider DHS's decision to discontinue the SBInet program a prudent course of action, and responsive to the many recommendations we made to address the wide array of identified weaknesses.

    Recommendation: To address the considerable risks and uncertainties facing DHS on its SBInet program, with respect to the condition of the program's work providing the analytical basis for informing a departmental decision as to what, if any, expanded investment in SBInet, both in terms of capabilities (functions and performance) and deployment locations, represents a prudent, responsible, and affordable use of resources for achieving the department's border security and immigration management mission to limit future investment in the program, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to have the SBI Executive Director make it a program priority to ensure that a forecast of the qualitative and quantitative benefits to be derived from any such incremental block of SBInet over its useful life, or reasons why such forecasts are not currently possible, are developed and documented.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security initiated an assessment of the SBInet program. The assessment was motivated in part by continuing delays in the development and deployment of SBInet capabilities and concerns that the SBInet system had not been adequately justified by a quantitative assessment of cost and benefits. Between January 2010 and January 2011, we reported on a variety of management weaknesses that contributed to the Secretary's concerns, including inadequate acquisition management practices -- test management, requirements management, and risk management -- shrinking system capabilities, and the lack of effective contractor oversight and economic justification for the program; and we made associated recommendations with which DHS largely agreed. In January 2011, DHS completed its assessment and decided to end SBInet as originally conceived. We consider DHS's decision to discontinue the SBInet program a prudent course of action, and responsive to the many recommendations we made to address the wide array of identified weaknesses.

    Recommendation: To address the considerable risks and uncertainties facing DHS on its SBInet program, with respect to the condition of the program's work providing the analytical basis for informing a departmental decision as to what, if any, expanded investment in SBInet, both in terms of capabilities (functions and performance) and deployment locations, represents a prudent, responsible, and affordable use of resources for achieving the department's border security and immigration management mission to limit future investment in the program, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to have the SBI Executive Director make it a program priority to ensure that the estimated life cycle costs and benefits and associated net present value of any such incremental block of SBInet capabilities, or reasons why such an economic analysis cannot be performed, are prepared and documented.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security initiated an assessment of the SBInet program. The assessment was motivated in part by continuing delays in the development and deployment of SBInet capabilities and concerns that the SBInet system had not been adequately justified by a quantitative assessment of cost and benefits. Between January 2010 and January 2011, we reported on a variety of management weaknesses that contributed to the Secretary's concerns, including inadequate acquisition management practices -- test management, requirements management, and risk management -- shrinking system capabilities, and the lack of effective contractor oversight and economic justification for the program; and we made associated recommendations with which DHS largely agreed. In January 2011, DHS completed its assessment and decided to end SBInet as originally conceived. We consider DHS's decision to discontinue the SBInet program a prudent course of action, and responsive to the many recommendations we made to address the wide array of identified weaknesses.

    Recommendation: To address the considerable risks and uncertainties facing DHS on its SBInet program, with respect to the condition of the program's work providing the analytical basis for informing a departmental decision as to what, if any, expanded investment in SBInet, both in terms of capabilities (functions and performance) and deployment locations, represents a prudent, responsible, and affordable use of resources for achieving the department's border security and immigration management mission to limit future investment in the program, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to have the SBI Executive Director make it a program priority to ensure that the results of these analyses, or the documented reasons why such analyses cannot be provided, are provided to the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the DHS Acquisition Review Board.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security initiated an assessment of the SBInet program. The assessment was motivated in part by continuing delays in the development and deployment of SBInet capabilities and concerns that the SBInet system had not been adequately justified by a quantitative assessment of cost and benefits. Between January 2010 and January 2011, we reported on a variety of management weaknesses that contributed to the Secretary's concerns, including inadequate acquisition management practices -- test management, requirements management, and risk management -- shrinking system capabilities, and the lack of effective contractor oversight and economic justification for the program; and we made associated recommendations with which DHS largely agreed. In January 2011, DHS completed its assessment and decided to end SBInet as originally conceived. We consider DHS's decision to discontinue the SBInet program a prudent course of action, and responsive to the many recommendations we made to address the wide array of identified weaknesses.

    Recommendation: To address the considerable risks and uncertainties facing DHS on its SBInet program, with respect to the second condition of the program's work providing the analytical basis for informing a departmental decision as to what, if any, expanded investment in SBInet, both in terms of capabilities (functions and performance) and deployment locations, represents a prudent, responsible, and affordable use of resources for achieving the department's border security and immigration management mission to limit future investment in the program, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, as the Chair of the DHS Acquisition Review Board, to decide, in consultation with the board and Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, what, if any, expanded investment in SBInet, both in terms of capabilities (functions and performance) and deployment locations, represents a prudent, responsible, and affordable use of resources for achieving the department's border security and immigration management mission.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  12. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security initiated an assessment of the SBInet program. The assessment was motivated in part by continuing delays in the development and deployment of SBInet capabilities and concerns that the SBInet system had not been adequately justified by a quantitative assessment of cost and benefits. Between January 2010 and January 2011, we reported on a variety of management weaknesses that contributed to the Secretary's concerns, including inadequate acquisition management practices -- test management, requirements management, and risk management -- shrinking system capabilities, and the lack of effective contractor oversight and economic justification for the program; and we made associated recommendations with which DHS largely agreed. In January 2011, DHS completed its assessment and decided to end SBInet as originally conceived. We consider DHS's decision to discontinue the SBInet program a prudent course of action, and responsive to the many recommendations we made to address the wide array of identified weaknesses.

    Recommendation: To address the considerable risks and uncertainties facing DHS on its SBInet program, with respect to the second condition of the program's work providing the analytical basis for informing a departmental decision as to what, if any, expanded investment in SBInet, both in terms of capabilities (functions and performance) and deployment locations, represents a prudent, responsible, and affordable use of resources for achieving the department's border security and immigration management mission to limit future investment in the program, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, as the Chair of the DHS Acquisition Review Board, to report the decision, and the basis for it, to the department's authorization and appropriations committees.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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