Contract awarded, work on U.S. Visit begins
- By Wilson P. Dizard III
- Jun 06, 2004
Program manager Jim Williams says he doesn't expect the contract to reach its full $10 billion potential.
DHS, contractors hammer out the details of the first three task orders for system
'U.S. Visit can be looked at as an information collection and dissemination program,' Mocny said.
Developers of a federal system to track foreign visitors in and out of the United States have a lot of work ahead of them, but the project has taken a major step forward.
The Homeland Security Department hit a significant milestone May 28 when it awarded the integration contract for the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology system to Accenture LLP of Reston, Va.
Over the next few days, government and contractor officials will lay out plans for the first three task orders the department needs for the program.
Accenture LLP, a division of Accenture Ltd. of Hamilton, Bermuda, bid $72 million to complete the first two of those three task orders, program manager Jim Williams said during a press conference held at the Arlington, Va., headquarters of U.S. Visit to announce the contract award. He declined to say how much the losing bidders, Computer Sciences Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., bid for the same two tasks.
The first task, which will run for a year, is to set up a program management team for U.S. Visit. The second is to prepare to activate the system at the country's 50 busiest land border crossings by the end of this year.
The third task order is to design methods of sharing information among U.S. Visit systems and users.
The U.S. Visit headquarters staff now numbers about 65, according to Bob Mocny, the program deputy director. That will increase to about 115 people as additional federal and contractor staff members join the program, many from Accenture.
The company's team could gain as much as $10 billion from the U.S. Visit systems integration contract, and is guaranteed at least $10 million under the pact. The contract runs for five years with five one-year options, and could be extended. But Williams said he does not expect the contract to reach the $10 billion level.
U.S. Visit spending will be set by Congress and the administration, and the Hill has ordered the General Accounting Office to keep a wary eye on the program.
Asa Hutchinson, the DHS undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security, said he agreed with GAO's view that U.S. Visit is a risky program.Risky business
'I would have been frustrated if they had not said it was a risky system,' Hutchinson said. 'I do not dispute that.' Hutchinson said the program has met several goals, including that of issuing the systems integration contract by the end of May.
In awarding the contract, DHS weighed the vendors' business and technical skills, experience in handling major projects, experience in border systems, and cost in awarding the contract.
Some sources said Lockheed Martin and CSC seemed to have the edge on past performance. But Accenture has extensive experience building border management systems for other countries including Canada, Ireland and New Zealand, said Eric Stange, managing partner of Accenture's Defense and Homeland Security practice and overall program manager for U.S. Visit.
'Of course these aren't as large, but the pre-entry-exit processes are very similar,' he said.
After DHS and Accenture hammer out the first task orders, they'll have another chore on their agenda: choosing the technology for biometric exit processing. The U.S. Visit program already collects data from exiting passenger manifests at airports and seaports.
But linking travelers passing out of the country to the biometric records the U.S. Visit program creates before a traveler enters will require DHS to field systems at more airports, seaports and land crossings.
The department already has two pilots of exit kiosks at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and at the Carnival cruise line terminal in Miami.
But additional pilot programs to be fielded this summer for exit processing likely will involve wireless systems for mobile processing of exiting passengers and an advanced kiosk design, officials said.
The system will create an electronic travel folder in the foreign country where a person applies for a visa at a U.S. consulate. Consular officials will collect a digital photo and biometric information from each applicant.
That information will be available at the port of entry when the person enters the United States. The information will be used to confirm that the person presenting the visa is the same person who applied for it.
The system also will use the information to record when the person leaves the country.
Another part of U.S. Visit is the mission operation center, which will include a data warehouse and data mining capabilities. The center also will be used for border management.
As program officials begin to evaluate systems for processing land-border crossers, they are considering the use of radio frequency identification devices to speed travelers' progress through the frequently crowded crossroads.
In fiscal 2004, the program received more than $364 million. It has several other contractors besides the Accenture team.
One of the most challenging tasks the Accenture team will face is coordinating the dozens of databases that process traveler information. 'U.S. Visit can be looked at as an information collection and dissemination program,' Mocny said.
The program's CIO, Scott Hastings, said the work in some cases would involve modernizing databases that form the system, notably at their data levels and transport layers. 'We have to develop subsystems rather than spider webs,' he said. Nick Wakeman of PostNewsweek Tech Media contributed to this report.