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DHS Pulls the Plug on P-28

As I noted, I attended a Border Security Contracting Conference at Texas A&M International University in Laredo today. One of the presenters was a representative of the Boeing SBInet Program. I asked for a comment on the media reports and then had a chance to speak one-on-one. The essentials are pretty straightforward, although there also needs to be a balance between the media reports and the company position.

As pointed out by a commenter, P-28 was a prototype system and was intended to be a "test." In fact, the towers themselves were not buried in cement for permanence (that fact was pointed out in the first post on the program back in February). The stated position was that P-28 was operational and had met objectives. One clear observation from this discussion is that P-28 was established on a timetable to meet DHS deadlines. According the SBInet representative, in at least one component area, the OEM software was not used. In other functionalities, the need for software upgrades was identified. Currently, as apparently correctly noted in the media releases, new towers are now being placed and system changes are being made. Another questioner raised the point about reported error rates exceeding the 5% target. This was refuted by the SBInet representative. One of my associates who accompanied me to the Conference and who is involved in perimeter (and border) security systems development concluded that the majority of the SBInet position was valid and that the media reports had been overly critical. At the same time, there are elements of truth in the reports. What does this mean? I'd say that one lesson is that evaluating complex technology systems from the outside is often difficult when based solely on media reports.

Original Post: In what should probably not be a surprise, the Department of Homeland Security has pulled the plug on Project 28, the stretch of the virtual security fence on the Arizona-Mexican border. At first, I figured it was a situation of getting out some of the software bugs in the prototype system, although I also commented that the whole situation looked like a political football at a time when our border security was at stake.

Yesterday it became clear that the system problems were larger and more serious than expected and the Department of Homeland Security scrapped the system because it was failing to adequately alert Border Patrol agents to illegal crossings, officials said. Among the many issues here is that only two months ago, DHS Secretary Chertoff “accepted” the completed fence from the contractor, Boeing.

I’ll be attending a Border Security Conference tomorrow. Maybe I’ll get an idea of what’s going to happen next.

2 Comments

As usual, the press got it wrong and everyone else either reported on the basis of other reports (fruit of the poison tree) or just piled on for fun. The project was never supposed to be permanent. It was always supposed to be replaced after the pilot with permanent towers.

Robert, you have a point (as I was just about to post an update). I've just returned from the Border Security Conference where I had a chance to talk to a P-28 exec. See my update to the original post.