Recent remarks by DHS Secretary Chertoff and Attorney General Mukasey (http://www.dhs.gov/xnews/releases/pr_1203722713615.shtm) along with news articles in the Wall Street Journal ("U.S. Curbs Big Plans For Border Tech Fence," http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120370791803186319.html), the Washington Post ("'Virtual Fence' Along Border To Be Delayed," http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/27/AR2008022703747.html) and Washington Technology ( "US-VISIT expands its vision," http://www.washingtontechnology.com/print/23_03/32314-1.html) show that while mega-border programs SBInet (GovWin Opportunity ID : 15084) and USVISIT ( GovWin Opportunity ID : 6274) are making incremental progress, comprehensive solutions remain elusive. We recommend separating political posturing from the very hard work that DHS continues to do.
SBInet's Project 28 recently delivered a virtual border fence pilot that is operational but full of challenges, not the least of which is that many new radar towers are being used for desert target practice. And while USVISIT has deployed systems for tracking the comings and goings of visitors at airports, progress at the land borders – where over 90% of the traffic enters and exits -- is stalled.
DHS seems to be responding three ways. First, they are applying more old fashioned non-technology resources to the problem, such as more border patrol agents and tighter restrictions document checks at ports-of-entry. Second, they recognize that the border problem is an extremely difficult one with many competing priorities and a lack of Congressional leadership. As such, they are viewing recent system deployments as incremental pilots rather than failures and are looking for new ideas to make them better. Third, they seem to open to finding these ideas from vendors other than Boeing and Accenture, the primes on SBInet and US-VISIT, respectively.
Spending for SBI was set at $110 MM in FY08 and $157MM in the FY09 Budget request. While a full roll-out of Project 28 may not happen, DHS will be using many of the elements that work in other places as they seek to optimize border security "to the vanishing point" from ports-of-entry. US-VISIT showed commitments of $462MM in FY08 and a request for $453MM in FY09. VISIT is building very real capabilities in capturing and vetting biometric data but remains challenged by the tremendous difficulty of tracking visitors inside the border and upon exit. Border security remains a very hot political football, but, as the most visible tip of the larger immigration iceberg, it will remain a top priority for the current administration and its successor in 2009.