GAO: DHS Blowing Upgrade of Obsolete Border Control Computers


Border Patrol
U.S. Government

Among people who think the federal government should be entrusted to do something, controlling and defending the borders features pretty high on the list. The interpretation of what that entails and how tight such control should be varies, but even for limited-government folks, making sure the U.S. border is more than a line on a map is seen as something of a core function for that big bureaucracy occupying the swampland that either Maryland nor Virginia wanted.But we're talking about government, here. And according to the Government Accountability Office, not only has the Department of Homeland Security been relying on increasingly archaic (read: freaking ancient) and ineffective (read: can't do what?) computer technology to monitor comings and goings across the border, it's making an expensive balls-up of finally replacing that system.

Yesterday, David A. Powner, GAO's Director of Information Technology Management Issues, described the existing system to the House Committee on Homeland Security's Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency:

TECS is an information technology (IT) and data management system that supports DHS's core border enforcement mission. According to CBP, it is one of the largest, most important law enforcement systems currently in use, and is the primary system available to CBP officers and agents from other departments for use in determining the admissibility of persons wishing to enter the country. … 

This mainframe-based system dates back to the 1980s and interfaces with over 80 other systems from within DHS, other federal departments and their component agencies, as well as state, local, and foreign governments.

So TECS plays a major role in Customs and Border Protection's doings, and if it was any older, it would have a crank on the side. It also has some limitations.

The current TECS system uses obsolete technology, which combined with expanding mission requirements, have posed operational challenges for CBP and others. For example, users may need to access and navigate among several different systems to investigate, resolve, and document an encounter with a passenger. In addition, CBP identified that TECS's search algorithms do not adequately match names from foreign alphabets. TECS's obsolescence also makes it difficult and expensive to maintain and support. Specifically, DHS estimates that TECS's licensing and maintenance costs are expected to be $40 million to $60 million per year in 2015.

Wait… "TECS's search algorithms do not adequately match names from foreign alphabets"? It's a good thing we don't have any ongoing tensions with folks from places that use different writing systems.

Oh. Whoopsies.

So, if the feds are going to do their border-control thing, it looks like it's time to replace TECS, right?

But…This is the federal government. And the GAO report that Powner presented to the subcommittee is a bit of a downer on this point. That report says, "The schedule and cost for the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) border enforcement system modernization program known as TECS Mod that is managed by Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) continue to change; while the part managed in parallel by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is undergoing major revisions to its scope, schedule, and cost after discovering that its initial solution is not technically viable."

Specifically, CBP is spending $724 million to update its system, but it just changed its schedule for doing so for the second time in less than a year. And the GAO doubts the revised schedule will be met because it says CBP can't reliably manage work activities or monitor program progress.

And that's just CBP. ICE is "redesigning and replanning" its $818 million program after realizing that the original plan couldn't work. Actually, ICE's efforts appear to be dead in the water while it works up a whole new set of plans and budget to match.

Considering that nothing is going according to schedule or plan, you can probably assume that the $1.5 billion allocated for this computer-upgrade effort is going to be exceeded, just a bit, in the end. Whether a functioning system will ultimately result is anybody's guess.

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  1. Now this is something that should be outsourced to India.

    1. Couldn’t the NSA just do CBP’s job anyways?

      1. Only if illegals crossing the Rio Grande tweeted their progress.

        1. I bet that happens a lot more often than you’d initially think.

  2. Maybe they can roll it up into the Obamacare system.

    1. I bet government would split 2’s and 3’s at the blackjack table too.

  3. The current TECS system uses obsolete technology, which combined with expanding mission requirements, have posed operational challenges for CBP and others.

    And this is one of the times that I really love having a government that could fuck up a wet dream.

    1. Exactly. We should be thrilled they’re this incompetent. If they weren’t, they’d be exponentially more destructive and horrible.

      1. The bad news is new technology won’t cost as much $60 million annually.

        I mean, it’s good news for normal people, but this is government. At least they have the “expanding mission” thing to fall back on to save their budget.

  4. At least we’re not Venezuela! What a socialist nightmare……..-fall.html

    Car sales in Venezuela fell 87 percent in January from a year ago…

    “The foreign exchange system is totally paralyzed…”

    Ford sold two cars in Venezuela last month…

    Shortages of foreign currency have emptied Venezuelan shops of everything from shaving blades to milk as importers struggle to get dollars and prices rise at the fastest pace in the world with annual inflation of 56 percent.

    Production is seizing up. And Maduro has doubled down on his enforcement of price controls.

    1. Ford sold two cars in Venezuela last month…

      Kinda surprised they sold any. So much risk, so very little reward.

      1. They’ll learn soon enough.

        The legislation, which has yet to come into effect, would allow the government to set car prices, ensure that used car prices don’t exceed new car costs and provide licenses to individuals to import a vehicle using an account in euros or dollars with a state bank, Maduro said in a national address.

        1. ensure that used car prices don’t exceed new car costs

          Because market forces could never accomplish such a feat as making old shit cheaper than new shit.


      Nice comparative article of Venezuela and Argentina with a graph of plunging foreign reserves.

      Many drugs and spare parts for medical equipment are unavailable. Car parts, including batteries, are increasingly hard to find; newspapers are closing for lack of paper. The country’s largest private firm, Empresas Polar, which makes many basic foodstuffs, is struggling to make some products. In a statement Polar said the government owed it $463m and that production was “at risk” because foreign suppliers of raw materials and packaging were threatening to halt shipments.

    3. Let this be a lesson to anyone who thinks that failure will stop progressives.

    4. Edsels?

  5. Looks like they’re on a path to make the AF look frugal…..d-112612w/

    1. The Air Force wastes millions of dollars a year just upgrading their *scarves*

      1. uh, sure…

  6. They just need to upgrade to the centurion package.

  7. I have a nephew who works for a company that handles data management for the state and there’s a reason the government sucks at IT stuff – the length of time it takes to make a decision about new systems is longer than the lifetime of a new system. Can you imagine knowing it takes 3 to 5 years to reach a decision on whether or not your agency should switch to the new version of Windows and realizing that you have to make that decision every two years?

    1. To be fair, Windows XP was a pretty good OS.

      1. I didn’t switch to Win7 till I finally got more than 4gigs of ram and needed a 64bit os, circa 2009. I still use a WinXP virtual machine so I can make use of Adobe CS3. Fucking morons made the installer a 16bit app, and 64bit Win7 dropped the 16bit runtime.

    2. We replaced an IVR system from 1998 in 2010. It stopped being able to handle the requirements in 2003.

      It was costing us $20,000 a year to maintain a pair of ten year old printers. A new printer was bid to us for under $50,000 and could take the load. It took over two years to convince management to spend $50k on a three year ROI.

  8. GAO: DHS Blowing Upgrade of Obsolete Border Control Computers


  9. I know I am not a journalist but JD, “Either Or” and “Neither Nor”, like the streams you can’t cross them.

  10. David A. Powner


    Great name, or greatest name?

  11. DISBAND THE NSA AND DHS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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