Inspector general outlines flaws in border security plan
The department has not adequately defined the operational requirements and acquisition baseline for the initial phases of the Secure Border Initiative, Skinner was expected to tell the House Homeland Security Management Subcommittee in a hearing set to begin near deadline.
In September, the department selected Boeing as the prime contractor for SBInet, which is intended to gain control of the nation's borders by integrating technology, personnel, infrastructure and processes. The company was awarded a three-year contract with three one-year options and given initial task orders valued at about $67 million for border security in Arizona.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has said he believes the department can achieve operational control of the borders by 2008. Skinner, however, said SBInet is vulnerable to changing schedule and cost estimates.
"Until the department fully defines, validates and stabilizes the operational requirements underlying the SBInet program, the program's objectives are at risk, and effective cost and schedule control are precluded," Skinner wrote. He added, "The absence of an acquisition program baseline is a significant risk to the success of the SBInet program."
Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke disputed Skinner's testimony, saying the department is doing SBInet in phases to mitigate program risks.
"There is a considerable amount of oversight built in, and we're already working very closely with Congress to provide them with regular updates on our progress," he said. "To the extent that the IG has ideas on how to strengthen oversight, we're going to be open to listening to them."
Skinner noted that previous programs to achieve border security, such as the Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System and America's Shield Initiative, failed due to improper management.
"While the department has recently taken steps to establish adequate oversight of this contract, we see risks similar to other [Homeland Security] acquisitions where contract management and oversight has failed," he said. "Prior to award of the SBInet contract, the department had not laid the foundation to oversee and assess contractor performance and control costs and schedule of this major investment."
Skinner also questioned whether the department has an appropriate staffing mix to oversee the contract. He said the department is putting in place a cadre of 252 positions to manage the program. But he said that may not be adequate, adding that about 65 percent of the positions will be contractors.
He said the high number of contractors "appears excessive for the management control environment that will be needed for such a large, complex acquisition." As a stopgap measure, the department has been using employees detailed from the department's Customs and Border Protection agency "to identify and perform tasks they are not experienced or trained for," he added.