US-VISIT Poorly Managed, Probably Behind Schedule

By Matthew Harwood

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for mismanaging core components of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program, which seeks to record and track the arrival and departure of foreign visitors.

GAO evaluated the two key elements of US-VISIT: the ability to establish a single, definitive identity for each entering visitor, which DHS calls "Unique Identity," and second, US-VISIT's ability to guarantee that the departing visitor "is who they say they are," said Randy Hite director of architecture and system issues at the GAO.

Under US-VISIT, DHS collects and stores each arriving traveler's ten fingerprints and a digital photograph. GAO found that DHS embarked on this primary segment of US-VISIT before its cost and effectiveness were justified. Fourteen months passed before the US-VISIT program office provided the requisite economic justification for the initiative. By that time, $22 million of the original $65 million allocated for it was already expended.

"By following such a practice," the GAO said, "DHS did not know whether it was pursuing the most cost effective investment option until after it had obligated tens of millions of dollars."

Similarly, GAO, found that the US-VISIT office has failed to plan and price out its exit solution. Exit solutions for air ports of entry are due to be implemented by December, but according to Hite, the program office has yet to determine what the solution will be and has "no concept of operations."

The GAO did agree with the program's decision to stick with fingerprints as the foundation for its biometric verification system. Highly accurate, fingerprint technology also offers interoperability with existing DHS and FBI identification systems toward  "a single identity mechanism for all immigration and border management programs."

When it came to evaluating US-VISIT's coordination with other immigration and border programs, particularly the Secure Border Initiative (SBI) and the  Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), GAO said DHS had taken "positive steps," but must  do more to avoid possible duplication and inconsistency of efforts across its agencies.

DHS "generally agreed" with the GAO's recommendations and has implemented strategies to address them.


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