DSJ sat down with Ruynard Singleton, Executive Director of the U.S. Border Patrol’s Program Management Office Directorate at the 2020 Border Security Expo to discuss technology and materiel issues. Here’s five things that we learned:

(1) Technology integration is key. The foremost technology challenge facing the Border Patrol is in integrating the disparate sensor and communications equipment — handheld to mobile to relocatable to fixed technology assets — that the Border Patrol has into a Common Operating Picture. “We have an Internet-of-Things situation on the border where we have different types of sensors being backhauled to different C2 systems and we really need an ability to integrate all of those capabilities so that we can get to the agents something that they can rely on while they are doing their front line work.”

(2) The Border Wall System is more than a wall. The 2020 U.S. Border Patrol Strategy outlines three operational objectives: (a) Enhance Situational Awareness; (b) Strengthen Impedance & Denial; and (c) Enhance Response & Resolution. The impedance and denial capability provided by the Wall System is informed and enhanced by advanced technology including enforcement zone cameras and fiber for intrusion detection and communications, so while significant resources are being expended on Wall System construction, this spending is not solely devoted to bollards/physical barriers.

Part of a border wall along the U.S. border with Mexico in Arizona

(3) Safe Spaces allow for Border Patrol experimentation with innovation – When new Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott ran the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector, he stood up an innovation lab — the CBP Innovation Team (INVNT) — that allowed industry to demonstrate or “pilot” border security technology solutions — including autonomous towers — against the challenges presented by varied topographies. “The Chief has endorsed the ability for small firms, firms out of Silicon Valley and others, to come in and actually use that environment to test their capabilities. When he talks about “safe space” the chief means the opportunity of industry and the Border Patrol to experiment and pilot with new technology out of harm’s way.”

(4) The Border Patrol wants to buy what’s out there and proven and is not in the business of sustaining an industrial base. “It’s not like we are building a nuclear carrier or Ohio-class submarines where you really need that industrial base there. We really want to focus on Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) capabilities. For us, right now, its all about the algorithms, how do we do the software piece of this challenging problem. We know the cameras are going to be there, we know the sensors are going to be there. It’s how do we bring it all together. Our industrial base is in the IT expertise, the DEVOPS, the agile development, the cycles needed to be ahead of the challenges we face.”

(5) OTAs and Section 880 provide the U.S. Border Patrol with quick routes to (small) contracts. The Border Patrol is successfully using Other Transaction Authority (OTA) and “Section 880” authority to fund “Shark Tank-like” investment in advanced technology areas including fiber. “It is a part of how we engage with industry. There’s a $10 million cap on contracts now, so it is limited.”