Following award, US-VISIT kicks into high gear

As the prime integrator of the Homeland Security Department's system for tracking foreign visitors, officials at Accenture are looking beyond the details of the program's technology integration to the overall landscape of managing a multibillion-dollar program.

DHS officials announced last week that the company, based in Reston, Va., will partner with the government to design and build the high-profile U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program.

The award represents one of the largest information technology projects in the federal government and one of the highest-priority programs in DHS. The system faces significant hurdles because of its size and complexity. Officials at the General Accounting Office have called it a high-risk program.

Nevertheless, DHS officials have set an aggressive timetable for the system. They noted that a crucial step to meet that aggressive timeline — awarding the contract — occurred on schedule. They said the contract would be awarded by May 28, and the paperwork was signed that day.

"This is [not only] a significant milestone in the history of the department but also very significant for our efforts to secure the borders of the United States," said Asa Hutchinson, DHS undersecretary for border and transportation security. "We recognized from the outset that we wanted to have a private-sector partner in this effort."

The program will require officials at U.S. airports and seaports to verify the identities of foreigners who travel to the country by comparing index finger scans and digital photographs. The goal is to track when visitors enter and leave the United States, which was not done before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and is seen as a major border security vulnerability.

Accenture's team developed a plan

for the program that accounts for business processes, organizational structure

and workforce management, said Eric Stange, Accenture's managing partner for defense and homeland security.

DHS officials "felt we had a clear understanding of their vision for the future of border management and that we did assemble a strong team with strong competencies, and they liked our approach," he said.

The Accenture team's first project, which comes in the form of task orders, will be to enrich the program management capabilities and help DHS officials implement US-VISIT at the 50 largest land ports by Dec. 31.

"We are currently in negotiations with [DHS] on the specifics," Stange said. "One of the things that is going to be important is to set all of that into an enterprise architecture construct, so we can build on it and not find ourselves down some dead end."

The five-year base contract also includes five one-year options. The minimum value of the contract through task orders is $10 million; the maximum value is $10 billion, although DHS officials said they do not expect to hit that ceiling.

Accenture officials estimated that their proposals for the first two task orders would cost $72 million, according to DHS officials, adding that a third task order will follow for systems engineering to foster integration of existing systems and improve information sharing.

US-VISIT's actual cost depends on future policies, program development and congressional decisions, Hutchinson said.

"The future of US-VISIT is not going to be determined by this contractor," he said. "We don't turn over our border-security decisions and plans to the private sector, but we do want to utilize their experience

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