US-VISIT on track

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 U.S. 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 air- and seaports, including use of biometric identifiers.

Meeting their initial goal will allow officials to gain the confidence of Congress and the Bush administration, but discussions about alternatives to subsequent targets could come later, Williams said.

Under the 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 come up with a long-term, integrated vision of where the US-VISIT program is going."

US-VISIT: The competitors

The field for potential prime bidders on the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology system has been narrowed to three companies. Here are the teams:

* Lockheed Martin Corp. — Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., Harris Corp., IBM Corp., Management Systems Designers Inc., Science Applications International Corp., SI International and Unisys Corp.

* Accenture — Dell Inc., Global Technology Management Inc., Raytheon Co., Sandler and Travis Trade Advisory Services Inc., Sprint, SRA International Inc. and Titan Corp.

* Computer Sciences Corp. — EDS, Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, Arinc Inc., and Bechtel Corp.

A request for proposals for a prime integrator is expected next month with an award expected by May 2004. Once officials choose the prime integrator, they will work with industry to 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 [lawmakers] with potentially an alternative, longer term [plan] that meets their goals...rather than being reactive to a conglomeration of legislation."

DHS officials narrowed the field of potential bidders for the prime integrator contract to three companies last week --Lockheed Martin Corp., Accenture and Computer Sciences Corp. — to allow US-VISIT officials to meet the aggressive contracting schedule.

"Discussions with 10 or 20 or 30 companies on a regular basis to produce [a request for proposals], it would significantly increase the time to get there," Williams said.

At an industry conference this summer, he outlined requirements for the prime integrator, such as experience on large information technology integration projects and high-volume, performance-based applications, which allowed for industry self-select, as he called it.

For example, AT&T Government Solutions worked for about a year on a solution before company officials decided not to bid to become the prime contractor. "We did an assessment of the probability of winning, and it was not high enough for us to pursue being a prime," said company spokesman Jim McGann.

Eric Stange, managing partner of defense and homeland security for Accenture, said the constant communication with DHS officials allows the companies to better understand the objectives and share their concerns. "It's been a very good process to date in terms of the dialogue between industry and government," he said.

The mandates for specific technologies have caused the companies to pause in the past few months as they try to develop solutions within the guidelines, said Ray Bjorklund, vice president of market intelligence and chief knowledge officer at Federal Sources Inc, a market research firm.

"It's troublesome because it's now tying their hands and making them rethink their programs," he said. "That's where industry would have liked to have [had] more of a free hand in deciding how to implement this system as opposed to being told how it is to perform."

Dick Fogel, Lockheed's director of strategic initiatives, said the team is working hard on a solution within the guidelines. "We're very aware of the statutory requirements. Our goal is to work with the government to propose a solution that meets the deadlines," he said.

Williams said DHS officials expect industry to come to them with an overarching vision of where the program should be going. That vision, he said, should be consistent with the department's enterprise architecture, which the US-VISIT program could be a key vehicle for building and implementing.

A draft version has been completed and is expected to be released shortly. Meanwhile, the vendors have been given a copy of the draft enterprise architecture as they prepare for the RFP.

"We wish we had a total vision right now," Williams said. "On the other hand, we are taking advantage of getting the best possible thoughts from three industry leaders."

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