GAO: US-VISIT still needs work

GAO Report

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The Homeland Security Department’s U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program has increased the ability of inspectors at land ports of entry to process visitors, but lax management controls threaten further improvements, according to the Government Accountability Office.

US-VISIT officials have also concluded that they can’t yet install an advanced 10-fingerprint biometric system at the ports, but GAO said a radio frequency identification system that has been proposed as an interim measure doesn’t meet statutory requirements.

DHS has installed US-VISIT at nearly all of the country’s 170 land-based ports, providing two-finger biometric scans and automating paperwork, which has boosted inspectors’ ability to move visitors through the immigration system, according to GAO.

But because of a lack of management controls, the program cannot handle many of the problems that crop up, the report states. Program officials did not catch some computer slowdowns and freezes at various sites, for example, which caused delays and could have affected security at the ports.

Although general performance measures have been established for air, sea and land ports, DHS has not developed specific land port measures. That limits officials’ ability to understand existing problems and identify necessary improvements, according to GAO.

DHS proposed the RFID system as a way to expand the system to include people leaving the country. It concluded that implementing a biometric system for exiting travelers that is similar to the one for people entering the United States would be costly – about $3 billion – and would also require a completely new infrastructure at the ports.

However, GAO auditors said tests of US-VISIT have identified many performance and reliability problems with the RFID system. US-VISIT is required by law to include a biometric capability that makes it possible to prove that the person leaving the country is the same one who entered, which an RFID tag cannot do.

GAO recommends that US-VISIT officials improve controls and computer processing at the land ports and develop performance measures specifically for those ports. The report also recommends that DHS should provide a report showing detailed costs for both a biometric and nonbiometric exit capability for land ports, and how emerging security initiatives at the ports will align with US-VISIT.

DHS officials largely agreed with the GAO findings, although they pointed out that many of the GAO complaints were related to other factors, such as capacity, staffing and volume of travelers that are, arguably, beyond the scope of US-VISIT.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.


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