Border Security:

Additional Actions Needed to Improve Planning for a Biometric Air Exit System

GAO-13-853T: Published: Sep 26, 2013. Publicly Released: Sep 26, 2013.

Additional Materials:


Rebecca S. Gambler
(202) 512-8777


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

What GAO Found

GAO concluded in its July 2013 report that without robust planning that includes time frames and milestones to develop and implement an evaluation framework for this assessment, DHS lacks reasonable assurance that it will be able to provide this assessment to Congress for the fiscal year 2016 budget cycle as planned. Furthermore, any delays in providing this information to Congress could further affect possible implementation of a biometric exit system to address statutory requirements. Therefore, GAO recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security establish time frames and milestones for developing and implementing an evaluation framework to be used in conducting the department's assessment of biometric exit options. DHS concurred with this recommendation and indicated that its component agencies plan to finalize the goals and objectives for biometric air exit by January 31, 2014, and that these goals and objectives will be used in the development of an evaluation framework that DHS expects to have completed by June 30, 2014.

Why GAO Did This Study

This testimony discusses the status of the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) efforts to implement a biometric exit system. Beginning in 1996, federal law has required the implementation of an entry and exit data system to track foreign nationals entering and leaving the United States. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 required the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop a plan to accelerate implementation of a biometric entry and exit data system that matches available information provided by foreign nationals upon their arrival in and departure from the United States. In 2003, DHS initiated the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program to develop a system to collect biographic data (such as name and date of birth) and biometric data (such as fingerprints) from foreign nationals at U.S. ports of entry. Since 2004, DHS has tracked foreign nationals' entries into the United States as part of an effort to comply with legislative requirements, and since December 2006, a biometric entry capability has been fully operational at all air, sea, and land ports of entry.

However, GAO has identified a range of management challenges that DHS has faced in its effort to fully deploy a corresponding biometric exit capability to track foreign nationals when they depart the country. For example, in November 2009, GAO found that DHS had not adopted an integrated approach to scheduling, executing, and tracking the work that needed to be accomplished to deliver a biometric exit system. In these reports, GAO made recommendations intended to help ensure that a biometric exit capability was planned, designed, developed, and implemented in an effective and efficient manner. DHS generally agreed with our recommendations and has taken action to implement a number of them. Most recently, in July 2013, GAO reported on DHS's progress in developing and implementing a biometric exit system, as well as DHS's efforts to identify and address potential overstays--individuals who were admitted into the country legally on a temporary basis but then overstayed their authorized period of admission.

This statement is based on GAO's July 2013 report and, like that report, discusses the extent to which DHS has made progress in developing and implementing a biometric exit system at air ports of entry, which is DHS's priority for a biometric exit capability.

For more information contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or

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