Homeland Security seeks proposals for border technology
Bureau on hunt for mobile detection devices to assist border patrol officers.
The Homeland Security Department is moving forward with its plans to replace outdated technology along the northern and southern U.S. borders with a suite of highly advanced devices.
In a request for information posted Wednesday, the department asked companies for data by next month about "highly mobile detection systems" with long-range, thermal night imaging, cameras, wireless communications equipment, monitors and remote controls to help border patrol officers.
The document, posted online at FedBizOpps by the customs and border protection directorate, said the agency would install the system on the existing infrastructure at the southern border. The former Immigration and Naturalization Service placed the infrastructure there in the late 1990s.
That contract has been shrouded in controversy. A 2004 inspector general's report found that tens of millions of dollars were wasted under the 1997 deal because the contractor overcharged for its equipment and installation costs, and government officials allowed the company to install faulty equipment. The report claimed that the federal government paid L-3 Communications a total of $234 million for an incomplete and inadequate job.
The former INS hired International Microwave Corp. to install cameras on poles along the Mexican and Canadian borders. L-3 Communications acquired IMC, and the contract, in 2003. The controversy prompted the government in September 2004 to terminate the L-3 Communications contract.
In Wednesday's solicitation, the border patrol office claimed that L-3 Communications technology is "no longer state of the market and has been superseded many times over by technological advancements." The agency added that after officials canceled the old INS contract, field operations have been in limbo, which is "significantly challenged by the ever-changing threat environment."
Border enforcement has become a hot-button issue for members of Congress. Many lawmakers have demanded that the Bush administration concentrate on securing borders and enforcing immigration laws before they would agree to the president's plan for a program to allow temporary guest workers.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in November announced a multiyear plan to secure the borders and reduce illegal immigration. The Secure Border Initiative called for more agents, advanced technology and enhanced infrastructure to control both the northern and southern borders within five years, and to improve enforcement of immigration laws.
The proposal includes the America's Shield Initiative, which focuses solely on buying high-tech devices for the borders. It is expected to cost $2.5 billion. Congress provided $31 million in fiscal 2006 funding for the initiative -- $20 million less than President Bush requested.
Appropriators said in a conference report on the Homeland Security Department's spending measure that they rejected the increase because the department said it is reviewing the entire shield program and "may suspend all major procurement action until it has resolved fundamental questions about scope and architecture."