US-VISIT could move again

The White House's budget request for fiscal 2013 proposes another shift in oversight for the Homeland Security Department's US-VISIT biometric technology program, among other IT-related changes.


The Homeland Security Department’s huge US-VISIT biometric technology program could be reshuffled into another agency—this time into the Customs and Border Protection directorate, according to the president’s budget proposal for fiscal 2013 released on Feb. 13.

Funding for the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program would drop to $262 million, from $312 million this year, under the plan.

Those are among the changes slated for major information technology programs in the department in the next fiscal year if the president's budget passes with those provisions intact.

The longstanding US-VISIT program is one of the largest ongoing IT programs in the department, costing more than $300 million a year since 2004. It is a system that collects fingerprints and photographs from most international visitors to the United States. The prints are then checked against various databases. Congress has been asking for fingerprint checks to verify when the visitors leave.

US-VISIT initially was created as a stand-alone program before moving into the National Protection and Programs Directorate in 2007. Under the new plan, it would move into customs and border protection. The budget document provides no explanation for the proposed move.

Another high-profile IT-related program, Border Security Fencing, Infrastructure & Technology, would be reduced to $327 million under the president’s plan, down from $783 million this year and $447 million in fiscal 2011.

The border infrastructure account in the past has paid for the Secure Border Initiative network (SBInet) “virtual fence” construction in Arizona. The network is composed of video cameras, radars and other sensors strung on towers and connected with an operations center.

More than $1 billion was spent on program development and deployment for the first phase over a portion of the Arizona-Mexico border. Secretary Janet Napolitano last year canceled the remainder of SBInet and said future border technology mixes would be selected and deployed based on the geographic characteristics of each sector.

For each proposed deployment, Congress has required an investment and management plan, along with a description of mission requirements and how the technology will address capability gaps.

Another major customs and border protection system to be allocated funds would be the Automated Commercial Environment, which automates business processes for processing incoming goods, would receive $141 million in fiscal 2013, from $212 million in fiscal 2012. Critical Operations Protection and Processing Support (COPPS), which provides infrastructure support for trade-related activities, would be budgeted at $187 million, from $207 million this year.

Other IT-related accounts included in President Barack Obama’s budget document included the DHS’ Office of the Chief Information Officer, which would receive $313 million in fiscal 2013, down from $327 million this year.

The Homeland Security Data Network, within the CIO’s office budget, would receive $42 million, down from $44 million. Data Center Consolidation within the CIO’s budget would receive $65 million, down from $70 million.

Funding for DHS headquarters consolidation at the St. Elizabeth’s campus in Washington, DC would rise to $89 million, from $56 million this year.

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