Boeing gets one-year extension on SBInet contract

U.S. Customs and Border Protection exercised its option to extend its SBInet border surveillance contract with Boeing Co. for a year.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has extended its Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) border surveillance system contract with Boeing Co. for another year, the program’s executive director said today.

During the coming year, the agency anticipates making a final acceptance of the first two permanent segments of the SBInet program camera and radar system that spans about 53 miles in Arizona, said Mark Borkowski, executive director of the Secure Border Initiative. 

CBP and its parent Homeland Security Department expect to make a decision on or around June 2010 on whether to proceed with SBInet construction along the entire border between Arizona and Mexico, he said.

The initial three-year indefinite delivery-indefinite quantity contract with Boeing was signed in September 2006, with three optional one-year extensions. CBP executed a one-year extension with Boeing on Sept. 17, Borkowski said. Since 2006, CBP has obligated $1.1 billion to Boeing, including $620 million for SBInet technology and $440 million for fencing and vehicle barriers. Boeing first completed a 28-mile prototype in February 2008l.

The extension allows Boeing to complete work on task orders approved under the original contract, including work anticipated through June 2010, and permits new task orders to be awarded, although none are required, Borkowski said.

The new contract “gives us great flexibility,” Borkowski said. “We have the option to award more work to Boeing.”

In late August, Boeing completed building towers and installing cameras and sensor systems for the 23-mile Tucson-1 segment, Borkowski said.

Borkowski said he expects to complete final tests and accept the Tucson-1 segment by January 2010, when it will be turned over to the border patrol for operational tests. Construction on a 30-mile Ajo-1 segment is scheduled to start in October, assuming environmental permits are accepted, and to be completed by June 2010.

Asked if the contract extension reflects acceptable performance by Boeing, Borkowski said that it does. “I am not entirely happy with Boeing, but I see [Boeing’s performance] as an improving trend,” Borkowski said. “We [CBP] share some of the blame for some of the problems. But do I think that things are significantly better? Yes, I do.”

A senior official from the Government Accountability Office on Sept. 17 told a House panel  about ongoing delays and technical concerns in the project, noting that the Tucson-1 segment previously was scheduled to be done in December 2008.

Timothy Peters, Boeing's vice president of global security sytems, said at the hearing that Boeing has invested its own funding to improve SBInet and conduct additional tests. He believes Boeing's work has lowered risk, increased system integrity and delivered an effective capability. Boeing officials were not immediately available today for additional comment.

Borkowski, who took charge in November 2008, who also appeared at the hearing, today defended the current status of the program, saying most of the delays occurred in the prototype phase in 2006 and 2007. He said the bulk of the technical problems identified in lab testing for the permanent system configuration have been corrected and he expects no major surprises in the field testing.

“We have data to ascertain what the risks are, and where we need to make changes,” Borkowski said. He believes some of the recent concerns being raised by the GAO and others about technical features of the SBInet system are more about preferences of users, rather than whether the system meets the requirements and provides value to the border patrol.

A person operating the system may prefer certain features to be different — preferring a camera that can see eight miles instead of six miles, for example -- but that does not mean the system is not performing up to specifications, he said.

“Of course we may prefer a camera to see eight miles, but it is a matter of paying for it,” Borkowski said.

He also said SBInet’s stated operational goal of detecting 70 percent of incursions across the border is being misunderstood. The actual level of detections will be much higher than 70 percent because SBInet works in concert with other systems such as ground sensors, mobile units, air units and agents on the ground, he said.