Management, technology short-circuit DHS's 'virtual fence'

Analysts see management skills gap in DHS's massive IT deployment

A US government plan to build a "virtual fence" along the border of Mexico and Canada, using radar, satellites, sensors and communication links to rapidly dispatch border patrol, has all the earmarks of a technology boondoggle.

US Congress was told this week that project is being delayed, and for reasons likely familiar to IT managers: the users weren't involved in the project's development, and the technology's complexity was underestimated.

Roger Krone, president of The Boeing's Network and Space Systems, the project vendor, was asked to explained to two US House Homeland Security subcommittees in a joint hearing Wednesday what happened and what's being done to fix it.

The first and most important lesson learned, said Krone in his testimony, "is the need for engagement with a complete set of customer stakeholders to include the actual SBInet users within the Border Patrol." SBInet is name for the Secure Border Initiative, with the net referring to virtual fence aspect of the border initiative.

Another "major lesson," said Krone, "is the need for more robust integration and testing prior to deployment."

The first segment of the 45 kilometre electronic fence was built along part of the US state of Arizona's border with Mexico. Congress was told this week that initial plans to extend the fence out to El Paso, in the US state of Texas, will likely take until the end of 2011.

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Patrick Thibodeau

Computerworld

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