Secure Border Initiative:

SBInet Expenditure Plan Needs to Better Support Oversight and Accountability

GAO-07-309: Published: Feb 15, 2007. Publicly Released: Feb 15, 2007.

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In November 2005, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) established the Secure Border Initiative (SBI) program to secure U.S. borders and reduce illegal immigration. One element of SBI is SBInet, the program responsible for developing a comprehensive border protection system. By legislative mandate, DHS developed a fiscal year 2007 expenditure plan for SBInet to address nine legislative conditions, including a review by GAO. DHS submitted the plan to the Appropriations Committees on December 4, 2006. To address the mandate, GAO assessed the plan against federal guidelines and industry standards and interviewed appropriate DHS officials.

The SBInet expenditure plan, including related documentation and program officials' statements, satisfied four legislative conditions, partially satisfied four legislative conditions, and did not satisfy one legislative condition. Satisfying the legislative conditions is important because the expenditure plan is intended to provide Congress with the information needed to effectively oversee the program and hold DHS accountable for program results. Satisfying the legislative conditions is also important to minimize the program's exposure to cost, schedule, and performance risks. SBInet's December 2006 expenditure plan offered a high-level and partial outline of a large and complex program that forms an integral component of a broader multiyear initiative. However, the plan and related documentation did not include explicit and measurable commitments relative to capabilities, schedule, costs, and benefits associated with individual SBInet program activities. In addition, the SBInet systems integration contract did not contain a specific number of units that may be ordered or a maximum dollar value as required by Federal Acquisition Regulation. Further, DHS's approach to SBInet introduces additional risk because the program's schedule entails a high level of concurrency among related planned tasks and activities.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help ensure that Congress has the information necessary to effectively oversee SBInet and hold DHS accountable for program results, and to help DHS manage the SBInet program and ensure that future SBInet expenditure plans meet the legislative requirements, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Secure Border Initiative Program Management Office Executive Director to ensure that future expenditure plans include explicit and measurable commitments relative to the capabilities, schedule, costs, and benefits associated with individual SBInet program activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: GAO's review of the fiscal year 2009 expenditure plan determined that the plan was more detailed than the fiscal year 2007 and 2008 plans, but the FY09 plan did not fully address GAO's recommendation because it did not include explicit and measurable commitments relative to the capabilities, schedule, costs, and benefits for individual SBInet program activities. As a result, this recommendation remained open until the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) submitted a revised expenditure plan. However, in January, 2011, the Secretary of DHS cancelled the SBInet program. With that decision, this recommendation--specific to the SBInet program--is closed as not implemented.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that Congress has the information necessary to effectively oversee SBInet and hold DHS accountable for program results, and to help DHS manage the SBInet program and ensure that future SBInet expenditure plans meet the legislative requirements, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Secure Border Initiative Program Management Office Executive Director to modify the SBInet systems integration contract to include a maximum quantity or dollar value.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DHS did not agree with our recommendation to modify the SBInet integration contract to include a maximum quantity or dollar value. According to DHS, the quantity stated in the contract, "6,000 miles of secure U.S. border" is measurable and is therefore the most appropriate approach to defining the contract ceiling. We do not agree. In order to ensure that the SBInet contract is consistent with regulations, we continue to believe that it should be modified to include a maximum quantity, either units or a dollar value, rather than the total amount of miles to be secured.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that Congress has the information necessary to effectively oversee SBInet and hold DHS accountable for program results, and to help DHS manage the SBInet program and ensure that future SBInet expenditure plans meet the legislative requirements, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Secure Border Initiative Program Management Office Executive Director to re-examine the level of concurrency and appropriately adjust the acquisition strategy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS's Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) is a multi-year, multi-billion dollar program that will develop a comprehensive border protection system through a mix of technology, infrastructure, and personnel. In fiscal year 2007, the Congress appropriated $1.2 billion for the program and asked GAO to review the SBInet expenditure plan. As part of our review, we identified a significant risk to the program's schedule and costs because of its reliance on concurrent and interdependent tasks. We found that DHS planned to install SBInet technology in multiple sectors along the southwest border before lessons could be learned from the pilot deployment project. We pointed out that the greater the degree of concurrency, the greater a program's exposure to cost, schedule, and performance risks. Among other things, we recommended that DHS re-examine the level of concurrency and appropriately adjust the acquisition strategy. In March 2007, DHS submitted a revised SBInet expenditure plan for fiscal year 2007 to Congress. In response to our recommendation, the new plan delayed some technology deployment and, in its place, accelerated tactical infrastructure construction, thus reducing the risk of program inefficiencies and consequent cost escalation and schedule delays.

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