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Program Update: CBP’s Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT)

Defense Systems Journal had an opportunity recently to speak with Mr. Mark Borkowski, Assistant Commissioner for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition, to get an update on an earlier DSJ piece on the SBInet-successor Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT) program.

Mr. Borkowski and Mr. Kurt Guth, CBP’s Director of Systems Engineering, provided the following insights and observations for industry contenders relative to the CBP’s pending high stakes – and apparently “winner-take-all” -- competition.

Industry Response to the IFT Draft Request for Proposals

CBP received over five hundred sets of comments and questions in response to the IFT Draft Request for Proposals (DRP), most of them seeking clarification on specifics and many having to do with the ten-year service provision requirements.  The bottom line is that industry “gets it” on what CBP wants and will be capable of providing compelling, integrated, low-risk offerings that will be ready to operate on Day One.

While the Program Office continues work to answer each query, CBP has otherwise essentially shut down its dialog with industry to ensure equity in advance of the IFT RFP release.  Notwithstanding the 10 January clarification on first sites for implementation, CBP anticipates no additional IFT releases of information (annexes, etc.) prior to RFP release.

IFT Solicitation Schedule & Acquisition Strategy

CBP does not anticipate any meaningful changes to the Key Performance Parameters (KPPs) or threshold or objective requirements resulting from industry responses to the IFT DRFP.

CBP expects IFT Request for Proposal (RFP) release in mid-March and Mr. Borkowski notes that there will be provision for additional, open Q&A with industry once the IFT RFP is released. 

Given the available funding, CBP is very likely looking at the selection of a single contractor to provide a single IFT configuration.  Perhaps that will change in the future, Mr. Borkowski notes, depending on available resources for the program, but not for this initial award.  As award protests have become the norm in federal procurements, CBP fully anticipates industry protest of its IFT source selection that will delay commencement of the contract.

IFT RFP Changes

CBP will endeavor to underscore to industry the following points from the (Border Patrol) user: that industry-proposed IFT solutions must work “out of the box” -- CBP has no interest or intention of “hand-holding” a contractor through integration issues; and that CBP is seeking a “totality of performance” solution and that RFP-identified IFT requirements – even threshold requirements – are absolutely/entirely tradable against other evaluation criteria, including both cost and other technical parameters.  Says Mr. Borkowski: “We have told industry what we want.  We want to know where they are ‘in the ballpark’ and not have them hung up on changing something to meet a particular identified threshold requirement.”

Congressional Support for IFT

Notwithstanding language contained in the Fiscal Year 2012 (FY12) Homeland Security Appropriations Conference Report that questions the IFT program’s direction and criticizes its slow start from the gate, CBP believes that Congress supports the Arizona Border Technology Plan in general and the IFT procurement in particular. 

Mr. Borkowski notes that Congressional appropriators routinely “fence” some CBP funding pending submission of detailed expenditure plans and this year is no different.  The fenced funding ($60 million) “is not onerous” and will not impact CBP ability to move forward with IFT and, as the Congress notes, spending on the program does not really commence until FY13.  Mr. Borkowski notes that CBP is endeavoring to make clear to a “constructively skeptical” Congress its low-risk approach to IFT and to justify both its investment and its deliberate schedule.

Use of DoD Equipment

CBP believes that its potential use of (retrograde) DoD equipment for border security application is “a great idea” and CBP is currently engaged in reviewing equipment lists and assessing where such materiel might best fit in with CBP plans and materiel. 

Mr. Borkowski notes that one system in particular – the Agent Portable Sensor System – appears “particularly attractive.”  He adds that exactly how CBP can employ other DoD force protection and ISR elements, including aerostat-based PGSS/PTDS systems will depend significantly on reconciling DoD and CBP CONOPS for their use, confessing that CBP has significant concern over the manning and upkeep requirements of the DoD equipment. 

Source Selection Criteria

Mr. Borkowski notes that CBP seeks to assess “totality of performance” for IFT adding that CBP is focused on how to fashion a competition and select a contractor who brings the innovation, agility and cost-effectiveness of a smaller company with the resources, interdisciplinary reach and perspectives of a larger company.   Overall, Mr. Borkowski lends the impression that CBP must get it right with IFT and will not risk tapping a contractor that, irrespective of the attractiveness of its bid, introduces risk to the program or that might lack the wherewithal to see through the program to success.