Secure Border Initiative:

DHS Needs to Follow Through on Plans to Reassess and Better Manage Key Technology Program

GAO-10-840T: Published: Jun 17, 2010. Publicly Released: Jun 17, 2010.

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The Secure Border Initiative (SBI) is intended to help secure the 6,000 miles of international borders that the contiguous United States shares with Canada and Mexico. The program, which began in November 2005, seeks to enhance border security and reduce illegal immigration by improving surveillance technologies, raising staffing levels, increasing domestic enforcement of immigration laws, and improving physical infrastructure along the nation's borders. Within SBI, the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) is a multibillion dollar program that includes the acquisition, development, integration, deployment, and operation of surveillance technologies--such as unattended ground sensors and radar and cameras mounted on fixed and mobile towers--to create a "virtual border fence." In addition, command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3I) software and hardware are to use the information gathered by the surveillance technologies to create a real-time picture of what is transpiring within specific areas along the border and transmit the information to command centers and vehicles.

The testimony summarizes our most recent report on SBInet, which provided a timely and compelling case for DHS to rethink the plans it had in place at the beginning of this year for investing in SBInet. In this regard, we showed that the scope of the initial system's capabilities and areas of deployment have continued to shrink, thus making it unclear what capabilities are to be delivered when. Moreover, DHS had yet to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of the proposed SBInet solution, and thus whether the considerable time and money being invested represented a prudent use of limited resources. Further, DHS had not employed the kind of acquisition management rigor and discipline needed to reasonably ensure that the proposed system capabilities would be delivered on time and within budget. Collectively, we concluded that these limitations increased the risk that the proposed solution would not meet the department's stated border security and immigration management goals. To minimize the program's exposure to risk, we recommended that DHS determine whether its proposed SBInet solution satisfied the department's border security needs in the most cost-effective manner and that the department improve several key life cycle management areas. DHS largely agreed with our recommendations. More importantly, since receiving these recommendations in a draft of our report in March 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security has taken action to limit the department's near-term investment in SBInet pending its completion of an analysis of alternative investment options. This and other planned actions are consistent with the intent of our recommendations.

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