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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Border Security System Faces Strategic, Operational, Technological Challenges

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's US-VISIT border security system faces a variety of technological and other challenges, a government watchdog agency says.

US-VISIT is designed to collect, maintain, and share data on selected foreign nationals entering and exiting the United States at air, sea, and land ports of entry (POEs). These data, including biometric identifiers like digital fingerprints, are to be used to screen persons against watch lists, verify identities, and record arrival and departure.

US-VISIT entry capability had been installed at 154 of the 170 land POEs. Officials at all 21 sites visited by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that US-VISIT had improved their ability to process visitors and verify identities.

DHS plans to further enhance US-VISIT’s capabilities by, among other things, requiring new technology and equipment for scanning all 10 fingerprints, notes GAO, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress.

"While this may aid border security, installation could increase processing times and adversely affect operations at land POEs where space constraints, traffic congestion, and processing delays already exist. GAO’s work indicated that management controls in place to identify such problems and evaluate operations were insufficient and inconsistently administered," GAO says.

For example, GAO identified computer processing problems at 12 sites visited; at 9 of these, the problems were not always reported. US-VISIT has developed performance measures, but measures to gauge factors that uniquely affect land POE operations were not developed; these would put US-VISIT officials in a better position to identify areas for improvement, GAO finds.

US-VISIT officials concluded that, for various reasons, a biometric US-VISIT exit capability cannot now be implemented without incurring a major impact on land POE facilities. An interim nonbiometric exit technology tested did not meet the statutory requirement for a biometric exit capability and thus cannot ensure that visitors who enter the country are those who leave, GAO says.

"DHS had not yet reported to Congress on a required plan describing how it intended to fully implement a biometric entry/exit program or use nonbiometric solutions. Until this plan is finalized, neither DHS nor Congress is in a good position to prioritize and allocate program resources or plan for POE facilities modifications," GAO adds.

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