The troubled border security program awarded to Boeing five years ago has been halted, but contractors are lining up in hopes of providing technology for the new incarnation of the effort.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano last year froze the “virtual fence” program known as SBInet, a boundary of tower-mounted sensors and other surveillance gear along the U.S.-Mexican border, after numerous technical problems and delays.
Now Customs and Border Protection is taking a different approach, planning to use existing, proven technology so that it can move more quickly and keep costs in check.
Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner in CBP’s office of technology, innovation and acquisition, said the new strategy represents a “pretty significant departure from the SBInet approach.”
CBP is “getting away from ‘one size fits all,’ getting away from creating something that doesn’t exist and getting away from the sense that in order to be effective everything that we buy has to be tied together with everything else we buy,” Borkowski said.
The plan is to first deploy the new technology along the Arizona border. Then, the agency will expand, using its evaluation of the Arizona deployment to inform its buying.
Borkowski said CBP has already started buying mobile surveillance systems and will soon issue solicitations for video surveillance equipment and eventually for fixed towers.
The new approach has meant a changed buying strategy that embraces multiple contractors. For instance, in the case of the mobile surveillance systems, the agency awarded contracts to two different companies, one to provide more capable and more expensive systems and another to provide cheaper, “good enough” equipment, said Borkowski.
For some companies lining up to compete, the new incarnation of SBInet — dubbed the Arizona technology deployment plan — is a second chance after losing out to Boeing the first time around. About 300 businesses sent representatives to a February industry day in Phoenix.
Lockheed Martin was not selected in the original SBInet competition but is closely following the new version.
“The remake of the project gives us another opportunity to put an offer or offers forward,” said Lee Hall, director of homeland security solutions at Lockheed. “Much has changed since then, and we have developed new capabilities.”
Hall particularly cited Lockheed surveillance technologies used more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan that could be applicable.
Reston-based Oceus Networks, previously the federal arm of Swedish telecommunications firm Ericsson but now an independent, U.S.-owned company, is also seeking a do-over.
Douglas C. Smith, president and chief executive, said the program’s smaller bites make it more attractive.
It’s now “broken up into pieces that companies our size can compete for,” he said.
Both CBP and industry said the level of interest seen thus far promises a competitive field.
“I would expect many of those firms that excel already in the [Department of Homeland Security] space would be there, and you may attract some additional firms like ours,” said Mark Coomer, director of executive agencies at ITT Defense & Information Solutions.