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CBP and Industry ponder opportunities after SBInet…

Defense Systems Journal had an opportunity to speak recently with Mark Borkowski, Assistant Commissioner for the Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition, about two key programs near pivotal competitive milestones in the Homeland Security Department’s post-SBInet era.

These CBP programs – Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT), and a significant rebirth for the Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS) – while not of SBInet’s technical scope or monetary value, will nevertheless be worth billions to the companies that receive lucrative production contracts next year.

Mr. Borkowski and Kurt Guth, Acting Director of Systems Engineering for CBP, began our discussion by stressing that IFT and RVSS should be viewed as but two elements in a suite of technical solutions that CBP –  as a result of a “SBI Net Secretarial Reassessment” completed in early 2011 -- will increasingly leverage to meet current and emerging border security challenges. 

As outlined here, in lieu of fielding 91 SBInet Block 1 sensors, CBP now intends to field:

·         67 Integrated Fixed Tower systems
18 new Remote Video Surveillance Systems (RVSS) and 41 replacement RVSS
15 RVSS cameras
56 thermal imaging (hand-held) devices
12 Agent-Portable Surveillance Systems (APSS)
140 imaging sensors (“triggered” cameras)
545 unattended ground sensors (UGS); and
4 Mobile Video Surveillance Systems

Mr. Borkowski notes that CBP has reluctantly given up on its plans to release Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for the RVSS and IFT programs prior to the end of this fiscal year (i.e., by 1 October).  The reasons, he explains are two.

First, he notes that that CBP has received an overwhelming volume of input from industry in response to Requests for Information (RFIs) released for the programs earlier this year.  While this massive industry input has provided CBP with a wealth of understanding on how CBP might most cost effectively address its requirements, it has also taken longer than expected to process, with Borkowski citing personal discussions with in excess of 1,000 interested vendors. 

Second, and perhaps most importantly, Mr. Borkowski, who was closely involved with the failed SBInet program, is imbued with the importance of getting it right moving forward.  Although keenly aware of Congressional pressure to get the RVSS, IFT, and other surveillance technology deployed as quickly as possible, he notes that the funding allocated for the systems will not expire at the end of the current (FY11) fiscal year and stresses the Congress wants the procurement done correctly.

Mr. Borkowski and Mr. Guth anticipate the release of the RVSS and IFT solicitations by early December 2011, with a goal of releasing the RVSS solicitation sooner if possible.  Once the solicitations are released, Mr. Borkowski says to expect a standard 60-90 day response time associated with both RFPs and a similar source selection period, placing awards in the late Spring 2012 timeframe. 

Mr. Borkowski notes that the acquisition strategies for the RVSS and IFT programs have yet to be formally determined, but says that he “is open to the possibility of multiple awards.”  What CBP ultimately decides will depend on whether the projected buys of the systems are large enough to enable a cost-effective implementation of a dual-source arrangement, such as DHS elected under the recent Mobile Surveillance Capability (MSC) contract. 

In addition to providing for ongoing competition via having multiple vendors for its programs, Mr. Borkowski notes that the ability to buy systems of significantly distinct capability is a positive for CBP.  Indeed, Borkowski noted that the RVSS and IFT programs are not coupled in any fashion and that CBP will not demand commonality between the systems.  That said, he conceded that there would be some advantage to having CBP’s fielded surveillance systems share elements.  He also notes that that industry, which is expected to provide Contractor Logistics Support (CLS) for the systems offered, may find cost efficiency advantages to offering common components.

As to an overarching message to industry, Mr. Borkowski repeated what companies have heard from CBP officials from the program’s inception: that CBP will be “very risk-adverse” in its selections related to both programs. 

Specifically, Mr. Borkowski is convinced that there exists today demonstrated, if not fielded capability to meet CBP’s present needs, stating clearly and repeatedly: “We are not interested in developing or creating new capabilities.” 

As to how CBP is likely to score industry offerings relative to technical risk and past performance, Mr. Borkowski notes that:

   The highest marks will be afforded to those companies that can point to fielded systems (DoD, perhaps international) that work today.

   A moderate grade will be ascribed to those companies that can provide “adequate evidence” to CBP that their components have been demonstrated to work together.

   The lowest scoring will be given to those companies with offerings that have never been integrated in their offered configurations and have not been validated to work.

Mr. Guth adds that once RVSS and (particularly) IFT are fielded, CBP will, resources allowing and requirements clear, be interested in pursuing opportunities to improve the performance of these systems.  But first, and foremost, it is clear from CBP, is bringing no risk solutions to bear on the surveillance requirements.