US-VISIT pilot rolls on

The pilot project for the foreign visitor tracking system is providing good insights ahead of the official rollout, the program director said.

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has been testing the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) since November. The massive entry/exit system will be implemented in 115 airports and 14 seaports Jan. 5, 2004.

"Our pilot is going well," US-VISIT Director Jim Williams said recently. "We have absolutely learned a lot from doing the pilot. It was a smart thing to do. There have been a lot of lessons learned. It helped in terms of training and in terms of positioning the equipment and communicating with travelers."

As of mid-December, more than 14,000 people with visas have gone through the system, which takes a traveler's fingerprints and digital photograph, checking the information against terrorist watch lists and comparing the data with information taken by the State Department at visa issuance. About 40 travelers have gone through the system twice, allowing officials to do a one-to-one check on their identities, Williams said.

The pilot is voluntary because a final rule has not been published in the Federal Register, Williams said, adding that most people are agreeing to the procedures.

"People aren't really objecting," he said. "It's something that is so quick, easy, painless. Our inspectors love it because it's a better tool for them to make better decisions."

Meanwhile, industry officials are preparing proposals for the prime integrator contract. Responses are due to the Homeland Security Department by the end of next month. Dick Fogel, director of strategic initiatives for Lockheed Martin Corp., one of three main companies vying for the contract, said there were few surprises when the request for proposals was released last month, but the system holds some significant challenges. The other two companies, Accenture and Computer Sciences Corp. declined to comment.

"The biggest challenge is to effectively figure out over time how we can reach the end vision and fulfill the congressional mandates with the funding available," Fogel said.

US-VISIT was appropriated $330 million for fiscal 2004, down from the $444 million requested. Williams has said the funding may limit the amount of work that can be done, but that more funding will likely be allotted in 2005.

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