Homeland Security:

Some Progress Made, but Many Challenges Remain on U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology Program

GAO-05-202: Published: Feb 23, 2005. Publicly Released: Feb 23, 2005.

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has established a program--the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT)--to collect, maintain, and share information, including biometric identifiers, on selected foreign nationals who travel to the United States. By congressional mandate, DHS is to develop and submit for approval an expenditure plan for US-VISIT that satisfies certain conditions, including being reviewed by GAO. Among other things, GAO was asked to determine whether the plan satisfied these conditions and to provide observations on the plan and DHS's program management.

DHS's fiscal year 2005 expenditure plan and related documentation at least partially satisfied all conditions established by the Congress, including meeting the capital planning and investment control requirements of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). For example, DHS has developed a plan and a process for developing, implementing, and institutionalizing a program to manage risk. In its observations about the expenditure plan and DHS's management of the program, GAO recognizes accomplishments to date and addresses the need for rigorous and disciplined program practices. For example, US-VISIT has acquired the services of a prime integration contractor to augment its ability to complete US-VISIT. However, DHS has not employed rigorous, disciplined processes typically associated with successful programs, such as tracking progress against commitments. More specifically, the fiscal year 2005 plan does not describe progress against commitments made in previous plans (e.g., capabilities, schedule, cost, and benefits). According to GAO's analysis, delays have occurred in delivering capability to track the entry and exit of persons entering the United States at air, land, and sea ports of entry. Such information is essential for oversight. Additionally, the effort to pilot alternatives for delivering the capability to track the departure of persons exiting the United States is faced with a compressed time line, missed milestones, and potentially reduced scope. In particular, the pilot evaluation period has been reduced from 3 to 2 months, and as of early November 2004, the alternatives were deployed and operating in only 5 of the 15 ports of entry scheduled to be operational by November 1, 2004. According to US-VISIT officials, this is largely due to delays in DHS granting security clearances to the civilian employees who would operate the equipment at the ports of entry. These changing facts and circumstances surrounding the pilot introduce additional risk concerning US-VISIT's delivery of promised capabilities and benefits on time and within budget.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the US-VISIT program is worthy of investment and is managed effectively, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security to ensure that the USVISIT program director follows effective practices for estimating the costs of future increments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The US-VISIT program office has ongoing and planned actions to address this recommendation. Specifically, program officials reported that they are updating the US-VISIT Cost Estimation and Analysis Process to reflect GAO's recently-issued Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide (GAO-09-3SP), and they plan to hire a contractor in late 2009 to train program office staff on GAO's guide. Once these actions are completed, the program office should be positioned to follow effective cost estimating practices for future increments.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the US-VISIT program is worthy of investment and is managed effectively, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security to ensure that the USVISIT program director develops and implements processes for managing the capacity of the USVISIT system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The US-VISIT program has developed a capacity management handbook that provides guidance for managing system capacity and has incorporated activities for complying with this guidance into its US-VISIT Delivery Method. Moreover, it has begun to implement this new guidance. For example, it has developed business and service capability baselines for its one of its key systems known as IDENT.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the US-VISIT program is worthy of investment and is managed effectively, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security to ensure that the USVISIT program director reassesses its plans for deploying an exit capability to ensure that the scope of the exit pilot provides for adequate evaluation of alternative solutions and better ensures that the exit solution selected is in the best interest of the program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The fiscal year 2008 expenditure plan states that DHS reassessed its exit plans, describes a new strategy for deploying biometric exit capabilities at air and sea ports of entry (POEs), and notes the absence of near-term biometric options for land POEs. DHS has also shut down the exit pilots (and demonstration projects) that this recommendation was intended to address.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the US-VISIT program is worthy of investment and is managed effectively, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security to ensure that the USVISIT program director fully and explicitly discloses in all future expenditure plans how well DHS is progressing against the commitments that it made in prior expenditure plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: US-VISIT's fiscal year 2007, 2008, and 2009 expenditure plans describe progress against the commitments made in previous annual expenditure plans. For example, the 2009 plan describes how key systems actually performed against performance targets cited in the fiscal year 2008 plan. Moreover, the 2009 plan establishes a basis for continued reporting of progress against commitments by setting 2009 performance goals for a range of program outcomes.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the US-VISIT program is worthy of investment and is managed effectively, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security to ensure that the USVISIT program director makes understanding the relationships and dependencies between the US-VISIT and ACE programs a priority matter, and reports periodically to the Under Secretary on progress in doing so.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS and the US-VISIT program office have taken steps to address this recommendation. Specifically, US-VISIT has been working with the DHS Screening and Coordination Office to, among other priorities, develop a greater understanding between US-VISIT and other programs, including ACE, about their relationships and dependencies. Further, because the US-VISIT program is no longer organizationally within the Office of the Under Secretary, reporting on progress to the Under Secretary is no longer a relevant aspect of the recommendation. Instead, the Screening and Coordination Office, which reports directly to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary, is involved in and thus aware of progress in this area.

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