US-VISIT milestones may shift

Homeland Security Department officials are confident they will meet the first deadline for a massive entry/exit system, but they may change future milestones.

Jim Williams, director of the Unites States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) project, said the department remains aggressive about meeting the Dec. 31 deadline to implement the system at all airports and seaports, including biometric identifiers. Officials will rely on existing programs to finish on time.

"We feel good around the deadlines in putting in place the entry capabilities at major sea ports where we already have major infrastructure in place," Williams said, which includes 14 of 42 ports by the end of the year.

Meeting their initial goal will allow officials to gain the confidence of Congress and the administration, but that could be followed by discussions about an alternatives to subsequent targets, Williams said. Under the current plan, the system is supposed to be deployed at the 50 largest land ports by Dec. 31, 2004, and at all land ports by Dec. 31, 2005.

"We do have concerns about our ability to meet those deadlines and if we will have enough money," he said. "We're trying to establish credibility for the program and then trying to see [if we] can we come up with a long-term, integrated vision of where the US-VISIT program is going."

A request for proposals for a prime integrator is expected in November and an award is expected in May, 2004. Once the prime integrator is chosen, officials will determine how to best meet their goals, Williams said.

"Maybe it changes the timelines, and maybe it doesn't," he said. "We'd like to be able to come back to [Congress] with potentially an alternative, longer term [plan] that meets their goals... rather than being reactive to a conglomeration of legislation."

Williams said they are in the process of developing a program management office, which the General Accounting Office recommended in a report released this week. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has approved the plans for the office, and 50 people have been initially detailed for it, Williams said. They are close to leasing office space and plan to move in later this year, he said.

Officials also want to establish a US-VISIT advisory board, another GAO recommendation, Williams said. The board, made up of executives from DHS and other agencies, would provide ongoing advice on the program.

"Generally, we agree with them," Williams said of the GAO report. "These are things we've talked about with GAO. They put down things they knew we were planning to do. Much of this is common sense."

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