DHS looking for better ideas on on the border



The Department of Homeland Security is moving fast to get surveillance technologies down to the southwest border now that the controversial SBInet “virtual fence” has been capped to cover just 53 miles of border in Arizona—and it’s putting industry on notice that it wants ideas for replacement technologies, like now.

Two weeks ago the department issued a Request for Information to industry for commercial-off-the-shelf “total solutions” for “automated, persistent wide area surveillance for the detection, tracking, identification, and classification of illegal entries.”

And last Thursday night, DHS announced that it is holding an industry day on Feb. 17 in Phoenix, Az. “looking for complete, fully integrated, and proven commercial-off-the-shelf/government-off-the-shelf (COTS/GOTS) solutions” for border surveillance. Big on the government’s list of demands is that industry not submit technologies that require more work than is absolutely necessary to install, integrate into existing systems and subsystems, and repair. In other words, don’t bother submitting technologies that Secretary of Defense Gates might refer to as “exquisite.” Just stuff that works.

It also sounds like the government is taking the exact opposite approach to acquisitions than it has in recent decades, where unique solutions were eagerly sought. This time, it’s all about what works, and works now. The announcement says that:

The Government is not interested in solutions that require measurable developmental effort to integrate COTS/GOTS subsystems. The Government intends to use fixed price contracting strategies for all procurements related to the border security technology solutions. The Government will also have a strong preference for open architecture solutions. In this context, “open architecture” means an inherent ability to “plug-and-play” (consistent with well-defined interface descriptions)—including switch-out of hardware and software components from other suppliers—without any additional integration costs or any additional involvement from the original equipment manufacturer(s).  There is no intent to develop any items or systems under the program.

This all makes a lot of sense given the lessons DHS learned with SBInet, where environmental, topographical, and population issues intervened to make the one-size-fits-all approach to border surveillance impossible to implement.  In a report released last week that announced the plan going forward, DHS wrote that “the selection of technology for a given area of the border is highly dependent on the nature of that area,” and that “the optimal technology deployment strategy would involve a mix of technology options tailored to each area of the border.” But these different technologies will have to be integrated into an existing system, and networked as much as possible—and the solicitation makes it look like the DHS is going to take a hard line on this issue.

The time and location of the industry day is no fluke. It comes a day after the annual Border Security Expo wraps up at the Phoenix Convention Center, which promises to be chock full of industry reps showing off the best they have in surveillance equipment. The announcement of the meet and greet should make for an interesting show. I’ll be at there, so if any industry types want to walk me though what they plan to submit to DHS, drop me a line at paul_mcleary (at) aviationweek.com .


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