GAO: US-VISIT program has problems

DHS' biometric fingerprint tracking plan for foreign visitors may not work well, auditors report.

The Homeland Security Department’s plan to require airlines to verify foreign visitors’ fingerprints for exit tracking has major problems, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office published today.

DHS published a notice of proposed rulemaking for biometric exit tracking of foreign visitors under the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program in April. The department said airlines would collect the fingerprints as the travelers were checking in at airports to leave the United States.

GAO said of the program, “The reliability of the cost estimates used to justify the proposed solution is not clear, the proposed solution would provide less security and privacy than other alternatives, and public comments on the proposed solution raise additional concerns, including the impact the solution would have on the industry’s efforts to improve passenger processing and travel. Moreover, the program’s risk management database shows that key risks are not being managed.”

The report also said DHS’ current-year expenditure plan for U.S. Visit partially satisfies eight of 11 conditions set by Congress, and none of the 11 conditions required by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 are fully satisfied by the plan.

As an example, DHS submitted a list of GAO recommendations for improving US-VISIT, as required, but did not supply the requested timeline of when those recommendations would be addressed.

Also, although the US-VISIT spending plan offers data on program management, operations and maintenance, it does not identify contractor costs as required, GAO said.

DHS officials agreed with the findings and made modifications to the expenditure plan in response, the report said.

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