What’s so surprising about the Boeing ad is that anyone familiar with the Department of Homeland Security’s border security efforts over the last ten years will regale you with stories about a fiasco called the Secure Border Initiative Network, whose acronym was “SBInet.” SBInet was canceled in early 2011, years after its “virtual border fence” was supposed to have been completed. Billions were poured down the drain on high-tech equipment that just plain never worked. Such unexpected factors as rain, animals, or even birds flummoxed the big-ticket sensors, despite the contractor’s promises in its proposal that everything had been tested and would work flawlessly.
The lead contractor on SBInet? You guessed it: Boeing. Only in Washington would we see the government contractor-equivalent of the skipper of the Titanic (or the Costa Concordia) take an ad promoting its credentials to get a few billion more for the same assignment. I’d love to see a story asking Boeing CEO W. James McNerney, Jr. exactly what the “experience based on real operational performance” is that his company refers to in the ad. Isn’t the ad meant to help the company win the new contract for a program apparently meant to succeed where Boeing and SBInet failed?
When the program was canceled (amid much chuckling from rival contractors that had lost out to Boeing), Boeing cited changing requirements and unexpected conditions that had hampered the program, but also said progress had been made in getting the equipment to work. Yet the simple fact is that the contract was scrapped in a world where few such contracts ever get canceled outright. Nonetheless, if McNerney has a better explanation, that would also be an essential part of the story.
More than that, at a time when the failure of government has enraged most Americans, how about a story tackling the rules and customs related to these kinds of contractor failures? Is the pitch that Boeing makes in its written proposal for the contract required to be more, uh, candid than this ad? In fact, why wouldn’t Boeing be disqualified from competing for new work that wouldn’t be necessary but for its earlier failure? If not, is it conceivable as a practical matter that DHS procurement bureaucrats would give the new work to Boeing? I’d love to hear their explanation for even considering Boeing and to find out how often this kind of failure is forgotten and the contractor gets awarded a do-over.
3. Mission creep at the Department of Homeland Security:
Speaking of the Department of Homeland Security, I recently came across this headline in the trade publication Government Security News, which covers DHS:
“DHS To Attend Online Dating Conference in Miami Beach.” An official in the department’s “Computer Emergency Readiness Team” was traveling to Miami Beach “to discuss deceptive dating tactics,” the story reported.
The next day a press release from DHS announced that Secretary Janet Napolitano was participating on Jan. 11 in a “Human Trafficking Round Table.”
Of course, the dangers of online dating are real, as is the tragedy of human trafficking. But don’t these activities by officials of the agency created in the wake of 9/11 to protect us from terrorism suggest a bit of mission creep? It seems time for a good look at DHS and Secretary Napolitano (who seems, from the DHS press releases I see from time to time, often to be away from the store making speeches and going to conferences).