Davis: Expect strict oversight of US-VISIT

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) pledged to keep a close eye on the Homeland Security Department's visitor tracking system, and said a steady flow of funding will continue if the program is handled correctly.

The U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program is a test for the new department, and Congress will maintain strong oversight to ensure the program is managed well, said Davis, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.

"I think the money will be there if it's done in an appropriate fashion," Davis said, speaking this morning at an event hosted by Input and ICG Government. "This is the first major step for DHS, and there is a lot of concern that this be done correctly."

The Bush administration requested $340 million for US-VISIT for fiscal 2005, and the program was appropriated $330 million in fiscal 2004.

DHS officials expect to award a contract for a prime integrator in May, which will essentially build the program's enterprise architecture and assist in the overall management, implementation and training. Davis warned contractors bidding for US-VISIT work that procurement and implementation will face strict scrutiny and many questions. The US-VISIT program team has done well so far with the January roll out of its entry solution at airports and seaports, Davis said. However, implementing the system at land borders and developing an exit solution will be true tests, he said.

US-VISIT officials expect the system to be implemented at land ports of entry at the end of 2004 and 2005.

The program needs support from Congress, said Scott Hastings, US-VISIT's chief information officer. Although the program has been elevated and given more money, officials are still working to integrate the new department, he said, speaking at today's event. Hastings stressed the need for a US-VISIT vision that goes beyond the one or two year implementation deadlines.

Officials must set goals for future business processes, rather than current best practices, he said. There also must be a complete understanding of that vision and the entire architecture before implementing technology, he said.

Hastings stressed the importance of investing in a fundamental change in business processes at the borders and building a foundation for future upgrades.

"Let's modernize our environment and not just add new bells and whistles," he said. "We need to make the case to Davis, the [Government Accounting Office], the [Inspector General] and appropriators that we need to fundamentally move to a new modern architecture, and then we can take advantage of edge technologies."

A clear vision and strong governance will make the program easier to sell to Congress, Hastings said, adding that officials should look across the department for other sources of funding, in addition to the $340 million approved by Congress.

"There's not a lot of [money] there to move forward in infrastructure consolidation efforts," Hastings said. "I think you're going to see some requests from us. Frankly, the money in play is different from the money identified in the [information technology] budget."

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