Secure Border Initiative:

SBInet Planning and Management Improvements Needed to Control Risks

GAO-07-504T: Published: Feb 27, 2007. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 2007.

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This testimony summarizes GAO's February 2007 report on SBInet, one element of the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Secure Border Initiative (SBI). SBInet is responsible for developing a comprehensive border protection system. By legislative mandate, GAO reviewed SBInet's fiscal year 2007 expenditure plan. This testimony focuses on (1) the extent that the plan provided explicit and measurable commitments relative to schedule and costs, (2) how DHS is following federal acquisition regulations and management best practices, and (3) concurrency in SBInet's schedule. GAO assessed the plan against federal guidelines and industry standards and interviewed program officials.

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 the broader multiyear initiative. However, the SBInet expenditure plan, including related documentation and program officials' statements, lacked specificity on such things as planned activities and milestones, anticipated costs and staffing levels, and expected mission outcomes. This, coupled with the large cost and ambitious time frames, adds risk to the program. Without sufficient and reliable information on program goals, status and results, Congress and DHS are not in the best position to use the plan as a basis for assessing program outcomes, accounting for the use of current and future appropriations, and holding program managers accountable for achieving effective control of the border. As of December 2006, SBInet was using, at least to some extent acquisition best practices, but DHS had not fully established the range of capabilities needed to effectively mitigate risks and to successfully manage the program. To its credit, the SBInet contract was generally competed in accordance with federal requirements. However, the SBInet contract does not fully satisfy the federal regulatory requirement to specify a maximum dollar value or the number of units that may be ordered. We also reported that important management controls provided for in Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance and best practices were not yet in place, although the program manager stated that he was committed to doing so. Until they are in place, the program is at increased risk of failure. DHS's plan to execute SBInet activities through a series of concurrent task orders introduces additional risk. With multiple related and dependent projects being undertaken simultaneously, SBInet is exposed to possible cost and schedule overruns and performance problems. Without assessing this level of concurrency and how it affects project implementation, SBInet runs the risk of not delivering promised capabilities and benefits on time and within budget. SBI and SBInet officials told us that they understand the risks inherent in concurrency and are addressing these risks. However, as of December 2006, they had not provided evidence that identified the dependencies among their concurrent activities and that they were proactively managing the associated risk.

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