DHS travel program rushed

The Homeland Security Department’s rushed implementation this week of electronic travel authorizations for visa-less foreign visitors is compromising the nation’s security, according to the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

“The Department has moved too quickly to certify and implement the electronic travel authorization system,” Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said in a Jan. 13 statement. “At this time, I do not believe it is capable of doing what it is supposed to, which is to track terrorists entering from Visa Waiver countries.”

DHS began operation Jan. 12 of the Electronic System of Travel Authorization, which requires travelers to submit information and receive notification through the Internet before traveling to the United States. It applies to visitors from 35 participating visa-waiver countries.

Lieberman said ESTA is not working as it should in the 27 countries that previously waived visas, nor in the eight new nations added to the program.

The Government Accountability Office in September 2008 reported that DHS is not capable of fully assessing risks to the visa waiver program or taking the necessary steps to mitigate those risks. Also, DHS officials have said airlines lack the ability to determine whether travelers from visa waiver countries have obtained their authorizations through the electronic system, Lieberman said.

In addition, under the law implementing 9/11 Commission recommendations in 2007, the Bush Administration was to have met two requirements before expanding the visa waiver program. The first was to create a fully operational electronic travel authorization system. The second requirement was to develop a system to track the departures of 97 percent of the foreign visitors who leave by airport. DHS in 2009 is expected to run several demonstration programs in which airlines are responsible for collecting and verifying the data on departing visitors.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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