Homeland Security:

Recommendations to Improve Management of Key Border Security Program Need to Be Implemented

GAO-06-296: Published: Feb 14, 2006. Publicly Released: Feb 14, 2006.

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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 entering and exiting the United States. US-VISIT uses these identifiers (digital fingerscans and photographs) to screen persons against watch lists and to verify that a visitor is the person who was issued a visa or other travel document. Visitors are also to confirm their departure by having their visas or passports scanned and undergoing fingerscanning at selected air and sea ports of entry (POE). GAO has made many recommendations to improve the program, all of which DHS has agreed to implement. GAO was asked to report on DHS's progress in responding to 18 of these recommendations.

The current status of DHS's implementation of the 18 recommendations is mixed, but progress in critical areas has been slow. DHS has implemented 2 of the recommendations: it defined program staff positions, roles, and responsibilities, and it hired an independent verification and validation contractor. It has also taken steps to implement the other recommendations, partially completing 11 and beginning to implement another 5. In September 2003, GAO reported that the program had not assessed the costs and benefits of Increment 1 (which provides entry capabilities to air and sea POEs) and recommended that the program determine whether proposed increments will produce mission value commensurate with cost. In the latest cost-benefit analysis, dated June 23, 2005, the program identified potential costs and benefits for three alternatives for an air and sea exit solution. However, the analysis does not meet key Office of Management and Budget criteria; for example, it does not include a complete uncertainty analysis, which helps to provide decision makers with perspective on the potential variability of the cost and benefit estimates should circumstances change. GAO reported in May 2004 and February 2005 that system testing was not based on well-defined test plans and recommended that before testing begins, the program develop and approve test plans meeting certain criteria. However, although the latest test plan did cover many required areas (such as the tests to be performed), it did not adequately trace between test cases and the requirements to be verified by testing. Without complete and traceable test plans, the risk is increased that the deployed system will not perform as intended. In May 2004, GAO reported that the program had not assessed its workforce and facility needs for Increment 2B (which extends entry capabilities to the 50 busiest land POEs) and recommended that it do so. Since then, the program evaluated the processing times to issue and process entry/exit forms at 3 of the 50 busiest POEs and concluded that the results showed that no additional staff and only minor facilities modifications were required. However, the scope of the evaluation was limited. Since then, DHS has deployed and implemented Increment 2B capabilities to these 50 POEs, making the collection of predeployment baseline data for these sites impractical. Nonetheless, other alternatives, such as surveying site officials about the increment's impacts, have yet to be explored. Until they are, the program may not be able to accurately project resource needs or make any needed modifications to achieve its goals of minimizing US-VISIT's impact on POE operations, which was the impetus for GAO's recommendation. DHS attributed the pace of progress to competing demands on time and resources. The longer that US-VISIT takes to implement the recommendations, the greater the risk that the program will not meet its stated goals on time and within budget.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DHS has not fully implemented this recommendation. The department has conducted post-implementation studies at those POEs where an entry capability has been deployed, and based on those studies, has taken actions to ensure that POE operations were not negatively impacted. However, in order to appreciate the full impact of US-VISIT at all land ports of entry, DHS must also understand how it will implement a land exit capability. To that end, in November 2008, DHS completed a draft Land Planning Report that, according to US-VISIT officials, describes a strategy for implementing a land POE exit capability. This report is being reviewed by the department and, according to the US-VISIT Program Director, no further work in regards to implementing a land exit solution will be initiated until this strategy is approved. Consequently, US-VISIT has not begun the project planning and analysis that would allow the program to develop a comprehensive understanding of the impact of US-VISIT on land ports of entry. US-VISIT officials felt that pre- and post-implementation site surveys and studies normally conducted during a project's lifecycle, would address the exit-related component of GAO's recommendation, but there is no current plan for when those activities would take place.

    Recommendation: To recognize both the need to fully assess the impact of US-VISIT entry capabilities on staffing levels and facilities at land POEs, as well as the current operational status of Increment 2B, we are closing our existing recommendation related to assessing the impact of Increment 2B. The DHS Secretary should direct the US-VISIT Program Director to explore alternative means of obtaining an understanding of the full impact of US-VISIT at all land POEs, including its impact on workforce levels and facilities; these alternatives should include surveying the sites that were not part of the previous assessment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security


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