House backs biometrics in DHS 2010 spending bill

The bill provides $42.4 billion in discretionary funding

The Homeland Security Department spending bill approved by the House would give a boost to the department’s largest biometric program, but would not fund for a biometric land exit solution.

The House on June 24 approved a fiscal 2010 spending bill for DHS passed by 389-37 with very few changes from the measure endorsed by the House Appropriations Committee on June 12.

The bill provides $42.4 billion in total discretionary funding, which is $205 million below the White House request and $2.6 billion more than the enacted fiscal 2009 amount.

The legislation includes $352 million for the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology, known as US-VISIT, the department’s largest biometric program. That is $52 million more than the fiscal 2009 amount. Under the program, visa applicants to the United States must provide fingerprints, which are collected in a database and checked against criminal and terrorist databases.

The US-VISIT funding includes $119 million for program management, $128 million for operations and maintenance, $31 million for identity management and screening and $29 million for interoperability and the Unique Identity program.

The US-VISIT budget also includes $45 million for the costs of mirroring the US-VISIT fingerprint databases to a DHS data center, and establishing a backup database at a second DHS data center. Currently, the fingerprints are housed in a Justice Department data center.

Currently, the fingerprints of visitors to the United States are checked when the visitors enter the country but not when they exit. Congress has been asking for several years for DHS to provide an exit solution at the land and air borders, but the department has maintained that implementing a land exit solution is not feasible. This year, no funding was requested or approved for a land exit solution, which the House Appropriations Committee called a “conservative and realistic position.” DHS currently is conducting pilot testing of air exit biometric solutions.

Under the Unique Identity program, the department is making US-VISIT’s fingerprint database, the Biometric Identification System, known as Ident, interoperable with the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. Funding for those efforts was increased last year to pay for Ident’s conversion to 10 fingerprints, from two.

The US-VISIT funding for fiscal 2010 also includes enumeration efforts within the department, which involve assigning a unique numerical identifying number to an individual’s biometric and biographic records and transactions, according to a report from the appropriations committee accompanying the spending bill.

Ident will provide a unique identifying number to any federal agency that submits fingerprints to Ident, the report said. “However, DHS also has taken the position that it will not use any single enumerator for any ‘public-facing’ use, due to potential risks to privacy and security,” the report added.

The legislation directs DHS to report to Congress by Jan. 15, 2010, on the use of unique identifying numbers.

 

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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