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FCW : April 30, 2016
The government has traditionally sought project specifics upfront and used extensive documentation, detailed base- lines and other drawn-out processes, and Borkowski said that mindset makes it tricky to introduce agile into acquisi- tion processes. However, the Federal Acquisition Regulation allows significant flexibility and some fuzziness in develop- ment cycles that can work to IT projects’ advantage. But it must be the right kind of fuzziness, he added. “As IT evolves, it’s too tempting to say, ‘Oh, we can do better’ and keep adding stuff to a program without making a conscious decision because it serves a particular purpose,” Borkowski said. Learning from SBInet’s failures Such so-called scope creep loomed large in CBP’s scotched multibillion-dollar SBInet border protection plan a few years ago, he said. The project also prompted the agency to begin shifting toward agile methodology. SBInet sought to integrate personnel, infrastructure, technology and rapid response from DHS’ four border and immigration component agencies — CBP, USCIS, Immi- gration and Customs Enforcement and the Coast Guard — into a single security system along the Mexican and Canadian borders. The technology was supposed to include surveillance sensors, mobile capabilities, fixed observation towers, cameras, radar and unattended ground sensors. The data generated by those technologies would be consolidated in IT systems in a series of “smart towers” along the border, and personnel would use the data to assemble a “common operating picture” for border agents. The project began in 2006 and collapsed in January 2011, when then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said it couldn’t meet its objective of providing a single, integrated technol- ogy solution for border security in a sensible, cost-effective, efficient manner. By the time the project ground to a halt, the department had spent about $1 billion to construct a 28-mile-long pilot section and a 53-mile-long permanent segment of SBInet in Arizona. According to Borkowski, tower installation couldn’t really get going until the common operating picture was tested and modified, which proved to be a moving target, so the larger project of installing the surveillance towers was lost in the details of ever-shifting IT. Taking a rigid approach to the complex process of speci- fying and buying technology can have a huge impact on an agency’s opera- tions because it comes with lengthy development toward a specific goal that is probably doomed to become outdated by the time it’s reached, he added. Borkowski is no stranger to big projects. He over- saw implementation of SBInet as executive director of the Secure Border Initiative Program Executive Office. Before joining CBP, he was the program executive for the Robotic Lunar Exploration Program at NASA, and he oversaw satellite programs during his 23-year career in the Air Force. He said problems with big projects can often be traced to how the specifications were written, how an acquisition workforce operates or whether key stakeholders are will- ing to step back and take a more considered view of what they’re doing. Throwing IT into the mix complicates things even more, he added. “SBInet was a waterfall project,” he said, but its succes- sor — the Integrated Fixed Tower (IFT) program — has relied on agile methodology. “It wasn’t called agile at the time,” he said of SBInet’s eventual evolution to IFT, but the change in approach was critical. The first seven of a planned series of 52 IFTs on the Arizona/Mexico border completed testing last September. Ronald Vitiello, acting chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, certi- fied IFT’s operational requirements to Congress on March 1, paving the way for wider deployment. Each unit consists of a fixed tower equipped with radar, electro-optical and infrared surveillance cameras, and power generation and communications equipment, which com- bine to enable continuous detection and tracking of activ- ity of interest. The cost for the first seven IFTs is pegged at around $150 million. McAleenan said CBP’s efforts to get better technology faster and from more diverse sources are spreading. The APC project, for example, has a mobile sister app called Mobile Passport Control that was developed with help from the Airports Council International-North America. It is slated to operate in 20 high-volume U.S. airports by the end of the year. Another mobile app will estimate border wait times for those entering the country, McAleenan said. And CBP is developing a wearable device to help the agency’s canine officers monitor their dogs’ health in severe heat and other dangerous weather conditions. Such iterative efforts are essential to DHS components’ ability to protect and manage U.S. borders, particularly as missions multiply and budget resources fail to keep pace, McAleenan said. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” he said. n Now, more and more, a piece of data is analyzed many, many times. We’ve moved from transactional to data as an asset.” Mark Schwartz, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services 0430fcw_010-013.indd 13 4/6/16 9:15 AM
April 15, 2016
May 15, 2016