Congress sitting on 2003 funds for U.S. Visit

The Senate and House Appropriations committees are deciding whether to release the bulk of the fiscal 2003 funds for the Homeland Security Department's U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology system.

If lawmakers don't release the U.S. Visit funds before Sept. 30, the department will lose the money altogether. When OK'ing the funds last year, lawmakers gave themselves the ability to dole out the funding based on whether they are satisfied with the U.S. Visit plans. So far, lawmakers have been less than pleased.

Earlier in the year, the panels released $42 million of the funds, and on July 25 the appropriators sent a letter to DHS releasing an additional $75 million. The committees plan to decide soon whether to release the remaining $252 million, congressional sources said.

The General Accounting Office has noted weaknesses in U.S. Visit's project planning and management controls. DHS managers have challenged the auditors' views, saying GAO failed to take into account the project's architecture planning and its reliance on pending decisions. (Click for June 9 GCN story)

Congressional sources said DHS officials must brief lawmakers by Sept. 4 about their plans for the remaining U.S. Visit funds.

Program managers have said they want to use much of the 2003 funding to install biometric devices at the nation's air and sea ports.

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