November 19, 2012 by David Olive

Congratulations are in order for the amazing success recently achieved by CBP’s Office of Air and Marine, under the strong leadership of Assistant Commissioner Michael Kostelnik. Last week, Defense Daily reported CBP plans to award a sole source contract to General Atomics for the purpose of buying up to 14 additional MQ-9 Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, plus the associated equipment and operations and maintenance services. The Predator is the only –“one size fits all” – unmanned platform CBP uses for border surveillance.

The announcement referenced a FedBizOpps notice of award (dated 10/19/2012) and the follow-on Justification and Approval, which was not posted until November 1, 2012. The FBO contract award document said the price tag will be $128,326,169, but the Class Justification and Approval (CJ&A) indicates that the contract plus options would run $443,090,000 over a 60-month period – nearly four times the FBO announced award amount. The amount seems staggering in a time of shrinking budgets and austerity calls from all political parties. But CBP’s justification virtually ignores the financial condition DHS and the federal government find themselves in.

That is right. A sole source award to General Atomics with a potential value of over $443 million dollars was provided in the days leading up to the November elections for up to 14 more Predator UAVs.

In spite of Congressional pressure, a DHS Inspector General’s report questioning CBP’s ability to manage its unmanned vehicle systems program, and comments made leading attendees at the IDGA Border Expo in El Paso in October to believe CBP was putting its Predator program “on hold,” General Kostelnik has pushed forward in his quest to build a fleet of 24 of the high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned platforms.

To do so in the face of increasing public pressure requires a type of leadership that frankly just doesn’t exist elsewhere within DHS. Moreover, I doubt there is anyone in DHS, the Obama Administration or in Congress who has the corresponding leadership ability to reverse CBP’s actions. General Kostlenik’s Office of Air and Marine has achieved the result they have been working on for many years. It has been a hard-fought victory but with the sole-source award, it appears to have been achieved.

So, congratulations to CBP. While the rest of the DHS mission will be subject to budget cuts amid the sequestration debate, and seemingly without concern for those personnel who will be laid off, CBP is telling the rest of us we can be comfortable knowing that giant drones will be patrolling the skies above the U.S. borders for up to 20 hours at a time at the mere cost of $3,500 per hour. Cheap at any price!


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