Davis requests US-VISIT info

As the January 2004 implementation of the first phase of a border entry/exit system approaches, House Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) is seeking information about agency coordination in the program.

In letters sent last week to Secretary of State Colin Powell and Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge, Davis expressed concern about how the two agencies would coordinate in the development of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program.

"While the success of the US-VISIT program is vital to the nation's security, a poorly designed and executed program could clog airports, cost millions in business and tourism, and ultimately hurt border security," Davis wrote in his letter to Ridge. "There are also concerns that the task of collecting, storing and accurately accessing biometric records in the quantity required is unprecedented."

Davis cited a General Accounting Office report that called the program "a risky endeavor." The first phase is expected to be launched Jan. 5, 2004, in 115 airports and 14 seaports.

The State Department has taken steps to increase security by requiring machine-readable passports for all foreign visitors by next October. State will be an active partner in the US-VISIT program, said Davis, who wants information provided to his committee from the two departments by Dec. 8, 2004. Among other things, Davis wants both agencies to describe their biometric data collection and provide plans for telling the public about the purpose of US-VISIT and use of the information gathered. Davis also asked State officials for:

* An overview of consular staffing and facility changes planned to accommodate data collection needs, an explanation of management changes and an overview of challenges that US-VISIT presents to the consulates.

* The makeup of the State team working on US-VISIT implementation and a description of the parts of the program where State has input.

* A status report on the integration of DHS personnel into the consular activities in two Saudi Arabian cities, Riyadh and Jeddah.

Davis asked DHS to provide:

* A list of ports of entry in which the US-VISIT system will be implemented in January 2004, including details about entry and exit timelines.

* Descriptions of the enhancements expected to be phased in during 2005 and 2006.

* Descriptions of US-VISIT staff.

* A summary of port authorities' plans, including which are prepared to accommodate the US-VISIT program and how costs will be distributed.

* Explanations of how the current fingerprint systems have been modified and improved for the new system.

* A copy of the procurement plan and documents.

* Descriptions of the roles of federal, state and local law enforcement accessing the system.

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