DHS travel authorization system allows thousands to slip through cracks

The Homeland Security Department is allowing about 364,000 foreign visitors from visa waiver countries to travel into the United States each year without obtaining all the proper authorizations, a Government Accountability Office told a Senate subcommittee on March 27.

Currently, there are 36 countries that have signed agreements to jointly waive visas for travel to and from the United States.

About 98 percent of visitors from those countries are complying with DHS’ Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), but the department has not assessed the security risks posed by the 2 percent of travelers who are not compliant, Rebecca Gambler, director of homeland security and justice issues for the GAO, said in her testimony.

Under the electronic system, travelers must submit biographical information and provide answers to eligibility questions prior to travel. Approval is good for two years.

In 2010, airlines complied with the requirement to verify approvals with the electronic system for almost 98 percent of visa waiver program passengers prior to boarding.

“The remaining 2 percent—about 364,000 travelers—traveled under the program without verified ESTA approval,” the GAO said in its report.

The GAO reported on the problem a year ago, but DHS has not completed a review to date. DHS officials told the watchdog agency they would begin quarterly risk reviews.

In addition, DHS has reported that only about half of the 36 countries that have agreed to visa waivers are fully compliant with the signed agreements. “Many of the signed agreements have not been implemented,” GAO said in the report.

DHS said it has established a compliance schedule to make the agreements final by June 2012.

The hearing was held by the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.

Featured

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

  • Shutterstock image.

    Merged IT modernization bill punts on funding

    A House panel approved a new IT modernization bill that appears poised to pass, but key funding questions are left for appropriators.

  • General Frost

    Army wants cyber capability everywhere

    The Army's cyber director said cyber, electronic warfare and information operations must be integrated into warfighters' doctrine and training.

  • Rising Star 2013

    Meet the 2016 Rising Stars

    FCW honors 30 early-career leaders in federal IT.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group