Will Democratic Congress alter SBInet?

Monday, January 1, 2007

WASHINGTON--The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General released a report in December saying DHS "does not have the capacity needed to effectively plan, oversee, and execute the SBInet program; administer its contracts; and control costs and schedule." This is likely to draw congressional eyes increasingly toward Boeing, which won an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to improve border control operations with technology and personnel.
A 2006 Report Card on the Department of Homeland Security prepared by Democratic staff of the Committee on Homeland Security, issued earlier this year, stated that, "As the Department moves forward with SBI, it is imperative given the past problems associated with contract management and deployment ... that the Department also put appropriate management controls and contract oversight systems in place to ensure that the government does not procure equipment and technology that will not fulfill its critical border security needs and lead to further waste."
With Democrats now controlling both houses of Congress, it is likely that statements like the following from the OIG will be cause for attention: "Much more work remains before adequate controls are in place to ensure effective contract oversight and implementation."
The inherent problem, the OIG report says, is that DHS "had not established, prior to awarding the contract, the organizational capacity to oversee, manage, and execute the program, or properly defined, validated, and stabilized its operational requirements."
However, James Carafano, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, DC-based think tank, cautioned that one shouldn't read too much into the report. "In one sense, of course, they're right," he said, "but this is true of anybody who tries to do a large integration project, so the notion that [DHS doesn't] have the capacity to do this is a bit obvious." He likened the situation to the Coast Guard's early struggles with its Deepwater project and other early homeland security efforts by the other military branches. "It's something they'll have to build ... [but] ... you shouldn't throw your hands up and say it's going to fail."
Nor does Carafano think the Democrats will be much different in their scrutiny. "I think any Congress should be rightly skeptical of these programs," he said. He felt the report was more of a comment on DHS than Boeing. "Boeing has a fair amount of experience doing this kind of thing," he said. "The government having human capital is always a problem."
Jeffrey Kessler, senior vice president and senior analyst at Lehman Bros., thinks the Democrats' main effect on SBInet and Boeing could be simply to slow the implementation down. "That doesn't mean it won't be the same amount of funding," he said, "just more debate about that funding." He feels there will be "a lot more publicity and debate over which types of technologies and which types of surveillance techniques will be allowed under SBInet."
The OIG also expressed surprise at the size of the initial award to Boeing. While $100 million was requested in the 2007 federal budget for border security technology, and $1.1 billion was appropriated for tactical infrastructure, OIG cites estimates of the SBInet value range "from $8 billion to $30 billion."