Homeland Security:

U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology Program Planning and Execution Improvements Needed

GAO-09-96: Published: Dec 12, 2008. Publicly Released: Dec 12, 2008.

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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 and from 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's objectives were to (1) determine if the plan satisfies the twelve legislative conditions and (2) provide observations about the plan and management of the program. To accomplish this, GAO assessed the plan and related DHS certification letters against each aspect of each legislative condition and assessed program documentation against federal guidelines and industry standards.

The fiscal year 2008 US-VISIT expenditure plan does not fully satisfy any of the eleven conditions required of DHS by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, either because the plan does not address key aspects of the condition or because what it does address is not adequately supported or is otherwise not reflective of known program weaknesses. More specifically, of the eleven conditions, the plan partially satisfies eight. For example, while the plan includes a listing of GAO recommendations, it does not provide milestones for addressing these recommendations, as required by the act. Further, although the plan includes a certification by the DHS Chief Procurement Officer that the program has been reviewed and approved in accordance with the department's investment management process, and that this process fulfills all capital planning and investment control requirements and reviews established by the Office of Management and Budget, the certification is based on information that pertains to the fiscal year 2007 expenditure plan and fiscal year 2009 budget submission, rather than to the fiscal year 2008 expenditure plan. Moreover, even though the plan provides an accounting of operations and maintenance and program management costs, the plan does not separately identify the program's contractor services costs, as required by the act. With regard to the remaining three legislative conditions, the plan does not satisfy any of them. For example, the plan does not include a certification by the DHS Chief Human Capital Officer that the program's human capital needs are being strategically and proactively managed and that the program has sufficient human capital capacity to execute the expenditure plan. Further, the plan does not include a detailed schedule for implementing an exit capability or a certification that a biometric exit capability is not possible within 5 years. The twelfth legislative condition was satisfied by our review of the expenditure plan. Beyond the expenditure plan, GAO observed that other program planning and execution limitations and weaknesses also confront DHS in its quest to deliver US-VISIT capabilities and value in a timely and cost-effective manner. Concerning DHS's proposed biometric air and sea exit solution, for example, the reliability of the cost estimates used to justify the proposed solution is not clear, the proposed solution would provide less security and privacy than other alternatives, and public comments on the proposed solution raise additional concerns, including the impact the solution would have on the industry's efforts to improve passenger processing and travel. Moreover, the program's risk management database shows that key risks are not being managed. Finally, frequent rebaselining of one of the program's task orders has minimized the significance of schedule variances. Collectively, this means that additional management improvements are needed to effectively define, justify, and deliver a US-VISIT system solution that meets program goals, reflects stakeholder input, minimizes exposure to risk, and provides Congress with the means by which to oversee program execution. Until these steps are taken, US-VISIT program performance, transparency, and accountability will suffer.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS's Acquisition Review Board, which is responsible for the department's investment reviews, has reviewed and effectively concurred with US-VISIT's efforts to address the challenges and weaknesses discussed in our observations on the program's fiscal year 2008 expenditure plan. In November 2008, US-VISIT briefed the DHS Acquisition Review Board on the challenges and weaknesses discussed in our report, including those for the proposed air and sea exit solution, risk management, and earned value management. The presentation described each of the specific concerns we raised, detailed remedial actions to be taken, and reported progress already made in addressing each concern. In February 2009, the board issued a memo that approved next steps for the US-VISIT program, including the air/sea exit pilots, without specifying changes to the remediation plan. By reviewing US-VISIT's planned remedial actions and progress, and subsequently authorizing the program to proceed, DHS's Acquisition Review Board effectively addressed this recommendation and made progress in ensuring that the program is better planned and implemented.

    Recommendation: To assist DHS in planning and executing US-VISIT, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the department's Investment Review Board to review the reasons for the plan's limitations and address the challenges and weaknesses raised by our observations about the proposed air and sea exit solution, risk management, and the implementation of earned value management, and to report the results to Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security


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