DHS may have cooked SBInet testing

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The SBInet system program office may have altered testing parameters to guarantee that key technology would pass quality tests, according to a Government Accountability Office report released March 18.

SBInet is a multi-billion effort led by the Homeland Security Department to blanket U.S. borders with a chain of radars, cameras and heat and motion detectors, allowing border patrol agents working from a common operational picture to make targeted responses to incursions.

The report cites a letter to prime SBInet contractor Boeing from April 2009 in which "changes made to procedures appeared to be designed to pass the test instead of designed to qualify the system." In addition, an independent verification and validation contractor told GAO investigators that testing on a remote radar was changed so that the area scanned by the radar would "cover only a small, predetermined test area."

More than 70 percent of testing procedures were rewritten during execution, GAO auditors found.

"Collectively, these and other limitations have increased the risk that the deployed system will not perform as intended," the report notes.

Among the defects that testing did uncover was frequent crashing of the common operational picture computers, remote sensor towers that swayed beyond tolerable levels during bad weather, false radar positives and blurry camera images. Also, radar circuit breakers frequently tripped when the radar dish was rotated beyond intended limits, the report says. Program officials told the GAO they likely have found a problem to that last problem.

During a combined March 18 hearing of two House Homeland Security subcommittees, Boeing defended the program.

"So, does SBInet pass the border security test? Based on the capabilities developed, the engineering rigor, and the positive mission impact of Early Operations, the answer is 'yes,'" said Roger Krone, president of Boeing Network and Space Systems, in a prepared statement.

The hearing came just days after Homeland Security Department Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a freeze on new SBInet work, pending the outcome of a review she initiated in January.

For more:
- check out the GAO report, "DHS Needs to Address Testing and Performance Limitations That Place Key Technology Program at Risk" (.pdf)
- the House Homeland Security Committee web page on the March 18 hearing; it includes a recording of the proceedings and copies of prepared testimony
- the prepared testimony of Roger Krone, president of Boeing Network and Space Systems (.pdf)

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