Mocny sets 2008 deadline for biometric exit program

The Homeland Security Department will fully implement a biometric exit program to record the comings and goings of foreign nationals by December 2008, said Robert Mocny, director of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program. But lawmakers question whether the DHS has a plan to meet that goal.

Mocny also said he expects DHS to release final rules for the biometric exit program in June 2008, after considering industry and government input.

DHS uses biometric entry programs at 116 airports, 15 seaports and 154 land ports. None currently uses biometric exit procedures, however. The agency announced in mid-May that it would begin requiring foreign nationals to undergo 10-fingerprint scans to verify their identities at airports.

Mocny said biometric exit pilot tests showed that the problem with implementation was not technology but that ports “lack the infrastructure to conduct exit control,” such as fixed biometric enrollment booths.

“We had learned that the technology works but the procedures do not,” he said in testimony today before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee.

Members of the Government Accountability Office said that deadlines are nice to have as goals, but DHS failed to provide a concrete plan for meeting them.

“We have seen an absence of definition…with what are you going to deliver, what capability, by when, at what cost, and to achieve what outcomes, and how are you going to measure those outcomes?” said Randolph Hite, director of information technology architecture and systems issues at GAO.

DHS “has yet to produce the plans or analysis of what that money will be spent on…how and when it will be delivered, and what will be delivered,” Hite said.

Mocny said the next important step is to seek more input from the airline industry, something he said DHS had been doing for the past couple months.

In contrast to Mocny’s testimony, James May, president and chief executive officer of Air Transport Association, said DHS has given industry little indication of major goals and few efforts to include them in unilateral decisions despite being specifically told that DHS would be seeking their input.

For example, DHS delivered the report on the biometric exit pilot program to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff in December 2005, but has yet to share that report with industry. Also, the agency came to a unilateral decision to make airlines responsible for checking biometrics without industry input.

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