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Observations on Implementing the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative

GAO-08-274R Published: Dec 20, 2007. Publicly Released: Jan 22, 2008.
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Securing the nation's borders has taken on added importance since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. For years, millions of citizens of the United States, Canada, and Bermuda could enter the United States from certain parts of the Western Hemisphere using a wide variety of documents, including a driver's license issued by a state motor vehicle administration or a birth certificate, or in some cases for U.S. and Canadian citizens, without showing any documents. In the heightened national security environment following September 11, we have previously reported that documents like driver's licenses and birth certificates can easily be obtained, altered, or counterfeited and used by terrorists to travel into and out of the country. To help provide better assurance that border officials have the tools and resources to establish that people are who they say they are, as called for in the 9/11 Commission report, section 7209 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, as amended, requires the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to develop and implement a plan that requires a passport or other document or combination of documents that the Secretary of Homeland Security deems sufficient to show identity and citizenship for U.S. citizens and citizens of Bermuda, Canada, and Mexico when entering the United States from certain countries in North, Central, or South America. The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) and the Department of State's (State) effort to specify acceptable documents and implement document requirements at 326 air, land, and sea ports of entry is called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). DHS is required by law to implement WHTI document requirements at the land and sea ports of entry on the earlier of two dates: June 1, 2009, or 3 months after DHS and State certify that certain implementation requirements have been met. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a component within DHS, is the lead agency in charge of inspecting travelers seeking to enter the United States at air, land, and sea ports of entry. CBP has created a WHTI program office within CBP's Office of Field Operations to manage efforts to propose acceptable documents, implement document requirements, and oversee technological upgrades. In fiscal year 2008, DHS requested about $252 million for WHTI implementation, including approximately $166 million for related technological upgrades--to develop new software and to deploy that software and new hardware at 13 of the highest-volume U.S. land ports of entry. According to DHS, implementation of the WHTI document requirements and related technological upgrades will support its strategic goal of facilitating legitimate trade and travel while enforcing all U.S. trade, immigration, drug, consumer protection, intellectual property, and agricultural laws and regulations at the borders. According to DHS, the technological upgrades are designed to improve customer service by avoiding a more time-intensive and intrusive inspection process that would result from meeting WHTI document requirements without this technology. In May 2006, we reported our observations on steps taken and challenges faced by DHS and State in implementing WHTI in five main areas: (1) proceeding through the rulemaking process, (2) making a decision about what documents individuals will need when they enter the United States, (3) carrying out a cost-benefit study, (4) resolving technical and programmatic issues, and (5) managing implementation of the program. This report provides updated information in those five areas.

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Border controlBorder securityDocumentationEntry securityHomeland securityIdentification cardsImmigrationInternational travelPort securityProgram evaluationSecurity policiesSecurity regulationsSecurity threatsStrategic planningTechnology assessmentProgram implementation