recommended reading

Customs and border agency tries new twist on industry days

Guillermo Arias/AP file photo

Customs and Border Protection has scheduled an all-day, atypical workshop Tuesday with prospective vendors to steer commercial funding toward technologies that could meet its future needs, CBP officials said. The Obama administration has proposed cutting border tech financing by $73 million in fiscal 2013.

During the past couple of years, CBP has held one-on-one meetings with many companies vying for a piece of the current $400 million purse, including suppliers of cameras, radar equipment, video analytics, video storage and data mining software, according to agency officials. Those discussions often veer into stream-of-consciousness brain-picking sessions -- and that’s exactly what companies told the agency they want more of, Mark Borkowski, CBP Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition assistant commissioner, told Nextgov.

“In a lot of those conversations, the representatives from industry say, ‘We would really like it if you could have some kind of an industry outreach, because you only do that when there is a procurement that is pending. We would rather have an opportunity to listen to you, not necessarily because there’s a procurement, but so we can posture ourselves.’ ” he explained.

Consequently, Border Patrol agents, CBP officers, international affairs staff and other agency personnel in a Washington conference hall next week will air their grievances about the state of border security and what they want to fix. CBP officials earlier in May announced a new border control strategy that shifts from deploying more guards and technology at the U.S. borders to using intelligence for pursuing areas of the border that present the greatest threats.

This is not the type of “industry day” where federal procurement officials provide further details on forthcoming contracts, although, if asked, CBP staff will take questions on specific projects, Borkowski said. On the flip side, contractors are not expected to reveal in front of the audience the technologies they have coming down the pipeline. Attendees are not likely to hear from CBP specifics about, for instance, automated checkpoint stations that scan retinas to allow entry. “We don’t want to foreclose the potential that a vendor has a solution to a problem that we hadn’t thought about,” he said.

Borkowski said he has been at about 1,000 individual informational meetings with vendors since 2008, when he was named executive director of the Secure Border Initiative program office, which oversaw a now-abandoned $1 billion virtual fence.

Many federal officials fear talking to vendors during the purchase process could run afoul of acquisition rules or disadvantage competitors. The Obama administration has made a point of trying to counter this perception with a myth-busters campaign that encourages early brainstorming sessions so that product solicitations mesh with the reality of the marketplace’s limitations. One reason CBP scrapped the Secure Border Initiative network was arbitrary stipulations -- such as the ability to detect 70 percent of incursions within a given field of coverage -- led to delays, cost-overruns and cameras malfunctioning when existing technologies could not meet those qualifications.

“There are a lot of people in government who get nervous about communicating with industry,” Borkowski said. “They think that somehow they are going to get a bill for the discussion.”

He finds it odd, he said, that officials are afraid to chat with industry executives when companies essentially are offering to make product investments on the agency’s behalf.

Next week’s forum could be envisioned as a live, in-person market survey. CBP officials will illustrate setbacks they are confronting in the hope businesses will craft technologies that can resolve them. Just a few of CBP’s current predicaments: hardware that rapidly becomes outdated and figuring out how to use technology at ports in a way that facilitates legal trade and travel.

“We’ll kind of give our view of the world and then we’ll get some clarifying questions from industry,” Borkowski said, adding vendors still will have the opportunity to schedule individual meetings. Part of the purpose of holding this symposium also is to aid smaller companies that don’t have the time or money for Washington appointments. The panel discussions will be webcast live so that out-of-town suppliers can submit questions online.

If the feedback after Tuesday’s experimental event is positive, CBP may hold similar sessions every six to nine months, Borkowski said.

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.