Report offers INS guide for IT

Data Management Improvement Act Task Force membership

A report filed with Congress this month has begun to give shape to the Immigration and Naturalization Service's quest for an entry/exit computer system that would keep track of border crossings by land, sea and air.

The Data Management Improvement Act Task Force report, filed Jan. 3, evaluates the agency's current technology and offers recommendations toward developing the entry/exit system.

Congress has set aside $362 million for the system in the budget now being considered for INS. However, the funds can't be appropriated until the agency develops a spending plan, according to a Senate report on the bill, because "it is unclear what this system is or will become, and how it will address [INS'] expansive directives."

The directives stem from several pieces of antiterrorism legislation passed in 2001 and 2002 that collectively will require INS to fingerprint every traveler entering or leaving the United States, collect biographical and biometric information on them, and store the data in a central database that is available to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, the Senate report said.

The task force report found that airports are the most heavily automated entry points. The largest number of people enter or leave the country via land routes, which are the least automated. It recommends that INS choose systems it already is using to meet the Dec. 31 deadline for capturing entry and exit information at air- and seaports. Over the long term, many of the systems will need to be upgraded or replaced, the team found.

Like most federal agencies, INS suffers from "stovepipes" of unconnected data. Many of the systems process data in batches, which delays access to information essential for tight security. The IT architecture isn't standardized and many IT users are poorly trained, the task force found.

The task force also looked for ways to expedite the border-crossing process for people whose business requires frequent travel to or from the United States. Ensuring that security measures don't impede legitimate travel was important to many members of the team, including Randel Johnson, vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.

Other key recommendations in the report include:

* Use emerging technologies including Extensible Markup Language and "federated systems"—an approach that uses multiple physical databases as if they were one—to make existing systems communicate with one another.

* Identify technology, including biometric devices, to strengthen border security. The systems should be interoperable with all federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

* Design the system so that it collects needed data only once, and disseminates it to other agencies as needed.

* Develop long-term goals based on strategic function rather than individual departments.

* Work in conjunction with other governments and private industry to develop increasingly secure documents for international travelers.

The 17-member task force was created through the Data Management Improvement Act of 2000 and began its work in February 2002. It includes six agency representatives, nine from the private sector and two from state and local government. Now that the entry/exit system report is complete, the task force will turn its attention to other aspects of INS' information technology.

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