SBInet 'not practicable', says CBP commissioner Bersin

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SBInet, the Homeland Security Department's effort to create a high-tech border perimeter, is "not practicable" in the near term, said Alan Bersin, Customs and Border Protection commissioner, testifying before a Senate panel on April 20.

"I don't want to say that theoretically, at some point, you couldn't have the kind of sophisticated technology integration that SBInet originally projected," Bersin told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

"But in the near term...the wholesale integration is not a goal that is practicable or that would produce the kind of productive results that we want to see," he added.

SBInet is a multi-billion effort 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 effort has cost $1.1 billion so far; the prime contractor is Boeing.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano suspended new work on the project in March, pending the outcome of a project review she ordered in January.

Bersin said his assessment of the fence is shared by Napolitano and is based "on the advice that we've received." So far, the CBP has deployed 15 sensor towers, 13 communication towers and 400 ground sensors along two southern Arizona sectors that span 53 miles. In August, CBP also began deploying remote video surveillance systems to the U.S. border along Detroit and Buffalo.

The Government Accountability Office recently released a report in which they found program officials may have altered testing parameters to guarantee that key technology would pass quality tests. More than 70 percent of testing procedures were rewritten during execution, GAO auditors found.

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.

During the hearing, Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) admonished Bersin that "by any measurement, SBInet has been a failure, a classic example of a program that was grossly oversold and badly under delivered."

"We're counting on you to take direct action to either terminate the contract or take from it what will work," Lieberman added.

For more:
- check out the hearing web page, including prepared testimony and a video of the proceedings (Bersin's quoted remarks begin at the 53:25 mark in the video)
- see a December 2009 CBP fact sheet about SBInet deployment in Arizona (.pdf)
- see a August 2009 CBP press release about SBInet deployment along the Canadian border

Related Articles:
DHS may have cooked SBInet testing
SBInet edges closer to cancellation