CBP moves forward with border tower procurement even as S&T says sensors need research

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Customs and Border Protection says existing technology is sufficiently advanced for it to mount a new attempt to deploy a tower-based anti-border crossing network of sensors along Arizona's southern edge, even as the Homeland Security Department's Science & Technology Directorate says it needs funding for research and development of sensors that would improve CBP's ability "to detect illegal incursions along U.S. terrestrial borders."

The first assertion of technology development comes from CBP in an updated statement of work posted online Feb. 16 as part of a draft request for proposals ahead of a final solicitation the agency says it will release on March 7. According to materials accompanying the fiscal 2013 CBP budget request, CBP will award a contract for integrated fixed towers in Arizona by the end of fiscal 2012, which ends of Sept. 30.  

"First and foremost, CBP is NOT interested in any kind of a system development," the draft statement of work says.

The second assertion, that sensors capable of "detecting, tracking, and classifying slow moving targets" along borders actually require research and development funding, comes from S&T Directorate fiscal 2013 budget materials. Fiscal 2013 starts on Oct. 1. As part of a $31.65 million border security R&D thrust, S&T says it plans to fund an effort that would "improve overall border security and agent safety by improving agent surveillance capabilities through increased sensor detections and lower false alarm rates."

The Arizona fixed tower procurement is part of an larger project worth at least $1.5 billion dubbed the Arizona Border Technology Plan, which in turn is a piece of a program known as the Alternative (Southwest) Border Technology program, which is the successor effort to a program DHS canceled in January 2011 known as SBInet. An earlier virtual border fence project known as the Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System canceled around the mid-point of the last decade collapsed in part due to equipment's inability to tell the difference between the movement of animals, vehicles and people along the border.

Current plans mark at least the third time DHS has attempted to flank the southern border with a virtual fence. When DHS gave Boeing a prime contract in 2006 to build SBInet, it said something similar to the current draft statement of work, stating that SBInet would be built with commercial-off-the-shelf parts. In fact, the draft statement of work is less strict than DHS then was in demanding the commercial availability of parts, since the draft statement says the Arizona tower should just meet the threshold of a "non-developmental item."

In the idiom of federal acquisition, a non-developmental item is something that has already been developed--for the exclusive use of state, local, federal or certain foreign governments--or an item sold in the commercial marketplace that can undergo modifications "of a type customarily available in the commercial marketplace" in order to meet government specifications.

Agencies have interpreted the "of a type" modification clause in the past to permit substantial changes to putatively fully-formed products.

CBP says in the draft statement that if it concludes that "there are no offerors who provide adequate confidence in the non-developmental nature of their system, or no offerors who provide enough performance at reasonable cost, CBP will cancel the solicitation rather than procure an ineffective or high risk offering."

For more:
- go to the draft Integrated Fixed Towers RFP on FedBizOpps

Related Articles:
Fiscal 2013: Customs and Border Protection 
CBP cost estimate for Arizona Border Surveillance Technology uncertain, says GAO 
DHS cancels SBInet