Tough Times on the Virtual Border

Sept. 20, 2007

Exactly a year ago in my weekly recap, I wrote about the news that Boeing had landed the Secure Borders Initiative (SBInet) contract to build a virtual fence using things like radar, surveillance cameras, a command and control system, field sensor and more. Now, a year later, they're catching heat in the national media and from DHS Secretary Chertoff himself over their slow timeline, which would have put them into preliminary testing phases with DHS about three months ago.

Systems integration is the main hang up, according DHS spokesman Russ Knocke, although Boeing describes it as "some remaining technical issues". News to Boeing: "remaining technical issues" are what you find during the subsequent user testing processes; "major" technical issues are those things that keep you from turning it over to the customer for acceptance testing. It's apparently a serious enough issue for Chertoff to publicly announce that the government is withholding payment on the system until the project gets moving forward again.

There's no doubt that integration of a project at this level isn't a simple thing or even something that can be rushed on a tight timeline (which the project was on from the start), and I don't write these words to criticize Boeing for their efforts, but we've all seen complex systems that combine a multitude of sensors, so we know it can be done. Come on, Boeing, we're rooting for you because this is the kind of industry project that proves to system specifiers everywhere that our industry has the software, integration and communications expertise which it claims to have.