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Wednesday, September 20, 2006 - Page updated at 02:39 PM

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Boeing snags contract to protect U.S. borders

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Boeing has won a contract to revamp how the United States guards about 6,000 miles of border in an attempt to curb illegal immigration, congressional sources said Tuesday.

UPDATE
Boeing wins first piece of contract

Boeing Co. will be awarded an $80 million government contract to provide new high-tech ways to catch illegal immigrants trying to cross U.S. land borders, officials said today.
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The Chicago-based company's proposal, estimated to be worth as much as $2.5 billion over the next four years, relied heavily on a network of 1,800 towers — some of which exist, but most of which would be erected along the borders with Mexico and Canada.

Each tower would be equipped with sensors, including cameras and heat and motion detectors.

Boeing's efforts would be the basis of the government's latest attempt to control its borders. The contract, part of the Secure Border Initiative and known as SBInet, again will test the ability of technology to solve a problem lawmakers have said is critical to national security.

This time, the private sector is having an unusually large say in how to do it.

Boeing sold its plan to the Department of Homeland Security as less risky and less expensive than competing proposals that would have relied heavily on drones for routine surveillance.

Boeing plans limited use of small, unmanned aerial vehicles that could be launched from Border Patrol trucks when needed to help pursue suspects.

The system is to be installed first along the 1,952-mile Mexican border in an area south of Tucson, Ariz., known as a key crossing point for illegal immigrants.

The company has said it can deploy the system on both borders within three years.

The public announcement of the award is planned for Thursday. Congressional and industry sources Tuesday confirmed Boeing had beaten four other companies in one of the most closely watched, intensely fought contract competitions this year.

The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the competition.

Homeland Security spokesman Larry Orluskie said the department is "really close" to making an award.

Boeing officials declined to comment, pending official notification.

In an interview this month, Boeing executive Wayne Esser said that despite the company's aviation experience, it wanted to keep its border-surveillance systems on the ground. "The aerial platform just goes off the map from a cost standpoint," he said.

Homeland Security has been criticized severely for initiatives that either have failed or far exceeded their budgets. In one case, cameras installed on the borders broke down in bad weather.

"The administration has spent $429 million of the taxpayers' money to try and secure our borders with two already abandoned border-security programs," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. He expressed concern the same thing will happen to SBInet.

Mindful of that record, Boeing emphasized that all its technology has worked. "The low-risk approach is probably going to carry weight here," Esser said.

From the beginning, department officials told industry leaders they wanted immediate results.

The contract proposed giving the private sector wide latitude in helping Customs and Border Protection figure out the right combination of technology, infrastructure and personnel needed to stop immigrants, terrorists and criminals from crossing into the United States illegally.

Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Michael Jackson said this year he wanted the companies "to come back and tell us how to do our business."

SBInet has been regarded all year by many industry executives as a critical prize, because Homeland Security's budget continues to boom, and no single company has emerged to dominate the market.

There was pitched competition among defense companies for the contract. The contest included five prime contractors — Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Ericsson and Boeing.

Each rounded up dozens of subcontractors, bringing a wide variety of defense and technology firms into the competition.

Boeing's subcontractors include a Washington, D.C.-based division of L-3 Communications Holdings and a Reston, Va.-based division of information-technology firm Unisys.

Boeing has been one of the Defense Department's largest contractors for decades and has been trying to win Homeland Security awards since the department was created after the 9/11 attacks.

In pursuing the award, Boeing touted its work installing explosive-detection systems at more than 400 airports in less than six months after the Sept. 11 attacks.

But that contract was criticized by Homeland Security's inspector general's office, which found Boeing received $49 million in excess profit on a deal that was supposed to be worth $508 million but ballooned to $1.2 billion.

Investigators also found Boeing had subcontracted out 92 percent of the work, and that the machines had high false-alarm rates.

The company disputed those findings.

Winning SBInet is considered an important victory for Boeing as it seeks to overcome a number of setbacks, including a scandal in which a Pentagon official admitted favoring the company in exchange for a job, and the loss this summer in the competition to build the next U.S. manned spacecraft.

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