Committee chairman: DHS needs Plan B for exit tech

The Homeland Security Department still has no secondary plan for implementing biometric exiting procedures at land-based borders, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said today.

Thompson said he was unaware of any plans for DHS to replace the recently canceled radio frequency identification tag system the agency pilot tested along the country’s borders as part of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program.

“I have not seen any proposals,” said Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, speaking at the Industry Roundtable hosted by DHS’ Office for Interoperability and Compatibility.

Under the system, DHS placed RFID tags on documents carried by foreign nationals who entered the United States and suspended tag readers over border crossings to detect the RFID-equipped documents when people drove out of the country.

However, the system did not work properly. In a report released Jan. 27, the Government Accountability Office said the readers did not always fully detect the tags. The agency also noted that the tags did not meet requirements for including biometric identifiers in tracking systems. Namely, the program lacked any direct biometric scanning. Airport-based US-VISIT systems now require a 10-digit fingerprint scan as part of the exit system.

GAO asked DHS to replace its system with something that scanned biometric identifiers or request congressional permission to use a system that doesn’t require biometrics. DHS chose to kill the pilot project.

In testimony February before Thompson’s committee, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff provided no plan for replacing the RFID system but suggested a joint program with the governments of Mexico and Canada to better document visitors.

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