DHS boosts its border workforce and technology

The Homeland Security Department has a diverse shopping list, encompassing everything from airport security gadgets to Coast Guard cutters to technology and staff to manage new passport requirements. The common thread among the department's recent purchases is support for two broader ongoing challenges: border security and immigration.

In fiscal 2009, DHS spent $13.6 billion on contracts, almost the same as the previous year. Border security remained one of the department's most pressing priorities and the Customs and Border Protection bureau saw an influx in new Border Patrol agents and other staff. The CBP workforce increased more than 10 percent during fiscal 2009, growing to 57,519 from 51,553 in fiscal 2008. With this personnel influx came the need for more training and equipment, frequently provided by contractors.

CBP also implemented the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires all citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico and Bermuda to have a passport or other accepted document establishing their identity and nationality when entering the United States from within the Western Hemisphere. Handling thousands of additional passports daily in compliance with the new mandate required investments in infrastructure and technology at 39 land ports of entry.

In addition, DHS awarded contracts in support of the E-Verify program that Citizenship and Immigration Services operates. E-Verify allows employers to use an automated system to confirm the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of new hires, as well as immigration information and employment eligibility. Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement made significant progress on the modernization of its information technology systems with the goal of increasing tactical communications and detainee tracking and improving case management. The efforts continue to be an important area of spending for ICE in fiscal 2010 and subsequent stages of the modernization will be carried out in the coming years.

While the component agencies are busy beefing up their technology, DHS headquarters is undertaking its own systems consolidation project at the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. The goal of this transformation effort is to streamline DHS agencies' support systems to realize both cost savings and operational efficiencies.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard continues working to refurbish and modernize its aging fleet of vessels under a revamped Deepwater program. It also is attempting to enhance its nonvessel assets, such as shore facilities and surveillance capabilities. And it is leading cleanup efforts stemming from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a task that undoubtedly will require resources and targeted spending in fiscal 2010 and beyond.

Other ongoing Homeland Security spending responsibilities include contracts for disaster response and support, and grants to encourage private sector firms to get involved in infrastructure protection. DHS has developed a National Infrastructure Protection Plan that, in addition to offering a forum for sharing best practices and risk management strategies, provides an avenue for federal assistance to private organizations managing key pieces of national infrastructure.

Click here for the top 25 Homeland Security contractors

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