Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Department of Homeland Security took a major step yesterday in seeking to control 6,000 miles of the nation’s borders, calling for bids that eventually could bring upgraded sensor and surveillance technology, unmanned aerial vehicles and computers.

In addition to 1,500 new U.S. Border Patrol agents this year and another 1,500 next year, the effort could include advanced video cameras with high-resolution images, infrared viewing and night vision; heat and motion detectors; biological and chemical detectors; ground radar; and facial-recognition software technologies.

With Republicans and Democrats in Congress deadlocked on immigration reform, Homeland Security officials yesterday began the bid process to hire a prime contractor to work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to develop a border security program in five years.

“We’re trying to procure for CBP a comprehensive tool kit to allow us to gain control of the border, a tool kit comprised of technology, infrastructure and people to intercept, arrest and deter illegal aliens,” Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson told The Washington Times.

“This will allow us to eventually focus on the entire border and it will have immediate benefits.”

Mr. Jackson said as many as 400 companies will be asked to submit proposals to the department by May 30. He is hopeful “a very detailed submission” will be ready by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

He said the department has designated a minimum of $2 million for the project, which will expand as more border areas are included.

The program, known as the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), seeks eventually to control 2,000 miles of southern border and 4,000 miles on the north through the use of increased technology, infrastructure and manpower by CBP and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

It is aimed at the detection, apprehension, detention and removal of illegal aliens.

“The private sector is our partner in helping us identify and bring to the field all sorts of tools that will help us do our job better,” Mr. Jackson said. “This is a big opportunity to leverage the substantial commitment we have in Congress and the White House to gain control of the border.

“There is a sense of urgency, and while this is a very fast procurement process, it is an important one,” he said.

Solicitation for the initiative officially began Jan. 26, when the agency hosted SBInet Industry Day, briefing industry officials on border security problems and challenging those in attendance to help develop solutions. The bid process allows industry to submit a proposal to CBP identifying solutions to securing the borders.

Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar has said the additional agents would “have immediate impact in securing our country from the threat of terrorism while improving the quality of life of communities along the border.”

Chief Aguilar said the major elements of SBI include more agents, secure ports of entry, expanded and more efficient detention and removal capabilities of apprehended illegal aliens, and the comprehensive upgrading of the technology.

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