GAO calls for U.S. Visit oversight board

The Homeland Security Department should establish an executive body formed of representatives to oversee the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator System, according to a General Accounting Office report that cited risks in developing the massive 'virtual border' system.

The GAO report, Homeland Security: Risks Facing Border and Transportation Security Program Need to Be Addressed, also called for improved U.S. Visit program management.

The department said it had made significant progress in improving program management.

The report said DHS has not developed plans for summarizing U.S. Visit's lifecycle costs and establishing a cost-benefit analysis for the program.

GAO identified 10 risk factors that imperil the U.S. Visit program, from its unformed governance structure to the lack of clear facility needs. As a result of the risks, the audit agency concluded that it is not clear whether the U.S. Visit will be able to 'measurably and appreciably achieve DHS' stated goals for the program.'

But the audit agency praised some activities under the program, saying that DHS had fulfilled an Office of Management and the Budget requirement that agencies state whether projects are approved by investment review boards and reviewed by chief financial and procurement officers.

In a written response to a draft version of the report, U.S. Visit program manager Jim Williams generally concurred with the auditors' findings. He said DHS has made significant progress in establishing effective program management and a U.S. Visit governance structure.

Williams pointed out in his letter that a DHS investment review board already has evaluated U.S. Visit twice. 'Finally, we are in the process of setting up a U.S. Visit Advisory Council,' Williams wrote.

Border and Transportation Security Directorate officials were not immediately available to discuss GAO's final recommendations.

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