With drug-related violence in Mexico reaching unprecedented levels and continuing high concerns about illegal immigration into this country, now is not the time for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to cancel the program to provide state-of-the art surveillance capabilities to the Border Patrol in its efforts to secure the southwestern border. The program, the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBINet), seeks to develop a network of electro-optical and radar sensors deployed on towers and at fixed sites connected to Border Patrol headquarters and mobile units. The goal of the program was to augment the border fence and provide sufficient detection and warning of illegal border crossings so as to allow Border Patrol agents a significantly improved chance to intercept those seeking to cross.
The initial program is to test the SBINet concept at two sectors along the U.S.-Mexico border. Initially, the program faced a number of challenges. Most of these had nothing to do with the capabilities of the lead contractor, Boeing. They reflected the inexperience of the responsible government agency, the Border Patrol, in directing and managing a large technology intensive development contract. The Border Patrol, in turn, had to deal with the inevitable chaos of being transferred into the newly-created DHS which itself lacked the necessary personnel and procedures to support efforts such as SBINet. The effort to protect the borders is also complicated by the fragmented nature of governance in this area. SBINet had to deal with the differing, sometimes quite parochial interests of cities, counties, states, tribes and different federal agencies.
However, over the past several years, SBINet has made substantial progress. Border Patrol officers are routinely using the interim command center both for training purposes and to support ongoing immigration operations. Improved technologies and procedures have overcome most of the network’s initial difficulties. Both the Border Patrol and DHS have matured as customers.
The security of the southwestern border cannot afford a cancellation of the SBINet program. It has been almost a year since DHS halted additional work on SBINet. DHS claims to have spent the time reviewing the program and its options for providing border surveillance. Eleven months later the review is still not complete. Truth be told, there are no credible alternatives to surveilling the border but that provided by SBINet. If DHS cancels the program it will take more than a year for it to develop, publish and award a new contract. A new contractor will have to climb the steep learning curve that Boeing has already surmounted. How many more years must be wasted while DHS tries to get its act together on SBINet?
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