Homeland Security:

U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Program's Long-standing Lack of Strategic Direction and Management Controls Needs to Be Addressed

GAO-07-1065: Published: Aug 31, 2007. Publicly Released: Aug 31, 2007.

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has established a program known as U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) to collect, maintain, and share information, including biometric identifiers, on certain foreign nationals who travel to the United States. By congressional mandate, DHS is to develop and submit an expenditure plan for US-VISIT that satisfies certain conditions, including being reviewed by GAO. GAO reviewed the plan to (1) determine if the plan satisfied these conditions, (2) follow up on certain recommendations related to the program, and (3) provide any other observations. To address the mandate, GAO assessed plans and related documentation against federal guidelines and industry standards and interviewed the appropriate DHS officials.

The US-VISIT expenditure plan, including related program documentation and program officials' statements, satisfies or partially satisfies some but not all of the legislative conditions required by the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007. For example, the department satisfied the condition that it provide certification that an independent verification and validation agent is currently under contract for the program and partially satisfied the condition that US-VISIT comply with DHS's enterprise architecture. However, the department did not satisfy the conditions that the plan include a comprehensive US-VISIT strategic plan and a complete schedule for biometric exit implementation. DHS partially implemented GAO's oldest open recommendations pertaining to US-VISIT. For example, while the department partially completed the recommendation that it develop and begin implementing a US-VISIT system security plan, the scope of the plan does not extend to all the systems that comprise US-VISIT. In addition, while the expenditure plan provides some information on US-VISIT's cost, schedule, and benefits associated with planned capabilities, the information provided is not sufficiently defined and detailed to address GAO's recommendation and provide a reasonable basis for measuring progress and holding the department accountable for results. GAO identified several additional observations. On the positive side, DHS data show that the US-VISIT prime contract is being executed according to cost and schedule expectations. However, DHS continues to propose disproportionately heavy investment in US-VISIT program management-related activities without adequate justification or full disclosure. Further, DHS continues to propose spending tens of millions of dollars on US-VISIT exit projects that are not well-defined, planned, or justified on the basis of costs, benefits, and risks. Overall, the US-VISIT fiscal year 2007 expenditure plan and other available program documentation do not provide a sufficient basis for effective program oversight and accountability. Both the legislative conditions and GAO's open recommendations are aimed at accomplishing both, and thus they need to be addressed quickly and completely. However, despite ample opportunity to do so, DHS has not done so and the reasons why are unclear. Until these recommendations are addressed, GAO does not believe that the program's disproportionate investment in management-related activities represents a prudent and warranted course of action or to expect that the newly launched exit endeavor will produce results different from past results--namely, no operational exit solution despite expenditure plans allocating about a quarter of a billion dollars to various exit activities.

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

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of DHS should report to the department's authorization and appropriations committees on its reasons for not fully addressing its expenditure plan legislative conditions and our prior recommendations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In agency comments on this report, DHS stated that it agreed with the majority of GAO's findings. Subsequently, US-VISIT program officials told us that they have periodically briefed their authorization and appropriation committees on program-related issues, including reasons for not having fully satisfied all expenditure plan legislative conditions and GAO's prior recommendations. However, documentation of these congressional briefings provided by US-VISIT does not indicate that the program's reasons for not fully addressing expenditure plan legislative conditions or our open recommendations were discussed. Further, staff with the Senate and House appropriations committees that focus on US-VISIT told us that they were not aware of any briefings in which this information was presented. As of August 2011, DHS officials have yet to provide evidence of discussions with the congressional committees regarding the topics of this recommendation.

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