More Money, Stronger Technology
The Bush administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2008, which begins October 1, 2007, appears to shift the administration’s approach to securing the nation’s borders by dramatically increasing the emphasis on technology and supporting infrastructure.
Last year’s request for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), for example, allocated $454.2 million to staffing — more than any other CBP category, according to the fiscal year 2007 Department of Homeland Services (DHS) Budget in Brief. Only about $180 million of the 2007 request went to CBP technology and infrastructure.
This year, the CBP staffing request has risen to $647.8 million and will cover 3,000 new Border Patrol agents, according to the 2008 DHS Budget In Brief. But technology and infrastructure requests have also surged to nearly $1.5 billion — just at CBP.
While the $1.5 billion CPB request is the largest technology and infrastructure request in the DHS 2008 budget, other DHS divisions want to boost technology and infrastructure spending as well. These include the U.S. Coast Guard, which has made the second largest DHS budget request for technology; the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); the Transportation Security Administration (TSA); the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC); the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS); the National Preparedness and Protection Directorate; the Science and Technology Directorate; and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office.
Adding up the requests from these divisions, the fiscal year 2008 Bush administration request for DHS technology and infrastructure comes to approximately $2.7 billion, about 6 percent of the total DHS budget request of $46.4 billion.
A comparison of the 2007 DHS Budget in Brief with the 2008 version reveals that DHS spending requests for technology and infrastructure related to border security have grown by $1 billion in the 2008 document — up from $1.7 billion in 2007.
“We’re very pleased,” says William Anthony, acting assistant commissioner for public affairs with DHS. “We feel (this year’s budget request) is an affirmation of the good work we’re doing, not only by the administration but also by Congress.”
Some in Congress express skepticism, however. “I am pleased that the President’s budget follows the lead of Congress in committing substantial resources to strengthen border security,” Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs said in a prepared response to e-mailed questions. “The President’s proposed $1 billion for infrastructure and technology is necessary to enhance border security. These resources are primarily targeted for the Southwest border, however. I remain concerned about the insufficient attention given to protecting the Northern border.”
The Senator’s statement also expressed concerns about the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) program, which is slated to receive a $1 billion funding request. “SBInet has already been identified by the DHS Inspector General as having significant risks with its acquisition strategy,” she says. “I intend to monitor the SBInet program closely.”
SBInet: Boeing’s $1 billion contract
At $1 billion, the 2008 budget request for SBInet ranks among the largest requests in the DHS budget for next year. SBInet is a component of the Secure Border Initiative (SBI). It will develop and install technology and tactical infrastructure capable of gaining control of the border. The 2008 funds are earmarked for the Southwest border.
In September of last year, DHS awarded the SBInet contract to Chicago-based Boeing Co. The indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract has already delivered its first task order to Boeing, a $67 million contract to engineer and manage an innovative virtual fence along a 28-mile section of the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
According to published reports, the technologies that will create the virtual fence include ground radar, sensors, cameras and camera analytics, aerial platforms and mobile and stationary towers. The so-called Project 28 will attempt to prove this technology package before the concept is rolled out to other areas of the border.
Over the next few months, Boeing and CBP will also be working on an SBInet technology called the Common Operational Picture (COP). According to an e-mailed response to questions from an SBI spokesperson, COP is a command-and-control system that accepts inputs from field sensors such as cameras, intelligence and communications systems, and CBP and law enforcement databases. “The system will provide presentation of border sensor data, incursion alerts, fusion of sensor tracks, automated scene understanding, force tracking, and apprehension and identification data,” it says.
Other CBP technology requests
The 2008 request also sets aside $130 million for air, marine and border patrol facilities. Among these facilities are remote bases designed to house 12 CBP border patrol agents for two weeks. Located in the Southwestern desert near the Mexican border, these facilities are accessible only by air and are completely self-sufficient. They are equipped with generators for power and satellite Internet and radio for communication. “These remote bases have been very effective, and the budget is providing for more of these small facilities,” says Michael Friel, a spokesperson for CBP.
The new Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requests $252.5 million for FY 2008. This program aims to accommodate the requirement that anyone entering the United States from Canada or Mexico must now show a passport. “This budget money will help deal with that challenge by building 225 new inbound traffic lanes at land ports of entry,” says Anthony of DHS. “These are considerable infrastructure expenditures, needed mainly because if people do not comply, it will take longer to clear them to cross the border. And we do not want to discourage legitimate trade and travel.”
In addition, the Treasury Enforcement Communication System (TECS) will receive $25 million to improve the screening of travelers entering the United States. The updated system will reduce the chance of missing someone on a watch list due to issues related to transcription from other alphabets.
The Secure Freight Initiative is requesting $15 million to hire nine CBP officers and personnel for eight support positions, as well as to acquire and deploy equipment and technology that will improve radiological and nuclear screening of U.S.-bound containers in foreign ports of departure — before being transported to the U.S. “The concept is meant to push the border outward and discover bad stuff before it leaves to come to the United States,” Anthony says.
In the first phase of the Container Security Initiative, CBP officers stationed in foreign ports worked with law enforcement agencies there and checked containers as they were loaded — before they left for a U.S. destination.
This year, CBP has requested $15 million to test a new container security concept. “When local authorities overseas pull over a container and examine it with a gamma ray imager, this technology would make it possible for our agents to view the images in real time on screens at our National Targeting Center so that our experts can verify the contents of the containers,” Anthony says. “We plan to test this technology in a few select ports.”
Finally, CBP is requesting $10.5 million to provide sensors, logistics and maintenance support for the division’s fleet of Predator B Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS — formerly Unmanned Aerial Vehicles).
Equipped with night and day cameras, the Predator Bs fly above 18,000 feet and can see exactly what is happening on the ground. “These aircraft are very helpful in providing situational awareness,” Friel says. “When a sensor goes off at night and our people are moving toward a location, the UAS can provide detail about the situation to agents, so that they know what they are up against.”
U.S. Coast Guard technology
The Coast Guard ranks as the second largest technology buyer in DHS this year, with a 2008 budget request for about $895 million in technology.
A request for Integrated Deepwater Systems (IDS) totals $788 million and would fund four National Security Cutters and materials for a fifth. That money would also pay the engineering and design costs for a replacement patrol boat, purchases four Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPAs) and establishes an MPA air station. Additionally, IDS command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance upgrades to USCG cutters, boats and aircraft will help improve maritime domain awareness and pave the way toward an integrated, interoperable border and port security system, according to the budget.
The Coast Guard is also requesting $89 million for the Rescue 21 National Distress System. The Rescue 21 project forms the foundation for the Coast Guard’s search-and-rescue activities. It will enhance command, control and communications capabilities in the coastal zone.
A $12 million request aims to continue implementation of the Nationwide Automatic Identification System (NAIS) project, designed to enhance the Coast Guard’s ability to identify, track, and exchange information with vessels.
Two smaller requests would provide $3.3 million to purchase special purpose craft and $2.5 million to upgrade the Coast Guard’s high frequency communications system with new high-powered transmitters.
Seven more DHS divisions are spending on border security technology
Seven more small-to-large programs are buying technology related to border security for seven additional DHS divisions. These requests include:
$146.2 million for the US-VISIT program. The National Protection and Programs Directorate at DHS wants to enhance the US-VISIT project in conjunction with the Departments of State and Justice, to capture 10 fingerprints rather than the current two. Plans also call for the continuation of efforts to develop interoperability between DHS’ Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) and the Department of Justice’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS.). DHS believes the linkage will improve US-VISIT’s capability for matching enrollees against latent prints, mitigate concerns about false negatives when matching enrollees against poor quality prints and ensure faster resolution of false positives.
$139 million to modernize the business infrastructure at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The USCIS has adjusted its fee schedule and plans to use new revenues to broaden its investments in a new technology and business process platform designed to enhance services. The new technology will modernize processes, improve the sharing of immigration information among agencies, eliminate paper-based processing, and improve USCIS’s ability to respond more effectively to a changing workload. The goal is to speed operations involving electronic filing of immigration benefit applications, monitoring the progress of applications and distributing benefits more efficiently.
$37.6 million for the Transportation Security Administration’s Secure Flight Program. These funds would pay for hardware procurement, operations and training, and network interface engineering between Secure Flight and the CBP Advance Passenger Information System network.
Information technology investments totaling $15.7 million requested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This program would modernize detention and removal operations information technology, acquire mobile IDENT/ENFORCE biometric identification devices and upgrade the Immigration Enforcement System.
$2.8 million for the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center’s (FLETC’s) Training Technology Modernization Plan (TTMP). TTMP provides technology to support training for about 400 training programs used by 53,000 students annually at four FLETC facilities. It also supports distance learning for state, local, tribal, international and federal law enforcement personnel.
Technological research and development budgets
DHS also hopes to fund research into border security technologies in the Science and Technology Directorate and in the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO).
Science and Technology has requested $21.9 million for what it calls an innovation program that aims to develop what DHS calls “game-changing and leap-ahead technologies.” The border security component of this year’s innovation agenda calls for the development of technologies capable of detecting tunnels underneath the U.S. border.
The DNDO is asking for $47.4 million to accelerate next-generation research and development across several program areas. Research will explore variations related to Advanced Spectroscopic Portal (ASP) systems — because different detection needs demand different ASP configurations. These funds will also allow for continued research in areas such as Active Special Nuclear Material Verification, which seeks to detect plutonium and uranium directly, even when heavily shielded. Other efforts are seeking low-cost, low-false alarm radiation detectors to capitalize on detection opportunities not limited by time — as during ship or airplane transit.
If Congress eventually appropriates the DHS budget requests, DHS will receive and spend about $2.7 billion in technology and infrastructure funding for the 2008 fiscal year.
But even if Congress denies some of the requested funds, it appears that by virtue of the 2008 requests — which are $1 billion higher than requests for border technology and infrastructure made in 2007 — the administration has made a major new commitment to using technology to secure the nation’s borders.