US-VISIT: Realism needed

The Homeland Security Department last week urged vendors competing for the development of an entry/exit system to use tried-and-true technologies so that the agency can meet its aggressive timetable.

DHS officials have set a Dec. 31, 2003, deadline for implementing the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) system at all airports and seaports, including biometric identifiers. The deadlines for implementation at land ports in 2004 and 2005, however, are a bit more daunting, officials said.

Jim Williams, US-VISIT director, said deploying the system at the 50 largest land ports by next year was "an enormous task" and "may be nearly unachievable." A DHS spokeswoman said it was too early to say if they would ask Congress to extend the deadlines.

Regardless of possible future delays, DHS officials are forging ahead with the vision and design of the immigration system, and agency officials are calling on industry leaders to offer their expertise.

Officials told industry representatives last week that the prime integrator for US-VISIT should present a practical solution with a sound business case. During a meeting with potential bidders, agency officials said they are planning to release a request for proposals by Nov. 30, receive proposals in January 2004 and award the contract in May 2004. The prime integrator will have a hand in each step of the development of the system, from the program management to the transition and deployment phases.

"I really envision this as a partnership every step of the way — a seat at the table," Williams said at an industry conference. "We want the prime integrator to play a key role with every aspect."

Although DHS officials clearly presented the scope of the project and the aggressive deadlines, they asked vendors to draw on their expertise to present solutions for immediate implementation. Officials are looking to build strong partnerships with the private sector, including a shared responsibility for the system.

"We want the prime integrator to have shared mission accountability," Williams said. "Our careers are being judged by this, and I would like to see the same thing on the industry side."

Gene Kakalec, vice president of business development and marketing operations for Northrop Grumman Information Technology, said DHS officials presented adequate details of their needs and that the September release of the department's enterprise architecture will give them more direction. Northrop Grumman is a potential bidder on the contract.

"They want to have bidders with solutions," Kakalec said. He said DHS officials are asking vendors to understand the agency's mission and present their ideas.

Lawmakers have allocated $380 million for US-VISIT for fiscal 2003, $5 million of which was released to build an expenditure plan.

Officials asked for the release of an additional $47.5 million of the allocated funds to develop more immediate projects. That money was granted July 7, Williams said, and will be used for system development and the purchase of equipment, such as fingerprint readers.

To meet this year's deadline, officials are modifying current systems, such as the immigration fingerprint and photograph database, IDENT. The General Accounting Office is reviewing the expenditure plan for the remaining funds, and Williams said he expects to receive the funds in the next couple of weeks.

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Focusing on milestones

The following are U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology deadlines:

Dec. 31, 2003: System deployed at all airports and seaports and includes biometrics such as two fingerprints and a digital photograph.

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