DHS to strengthen U.S. Visit management oversight

Management oversight over the Homeland Security Department's U.S. Visit program will be strengthened as it moves to a new directorate on March 31, said Bob Mocny, the program's acting director.

The U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program is being relocated to a new National Protection and Programs directorate at the end of March, Mocny told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security on Feb. 16. It currently is a stand-alone program.

Mocny said the change in administration will improve U.S. Visit, which collects biometric information from foreign visitors entering the country and, with the State Department, checks it against terrorist watch lists.

'This realignment will support coordination for the program's protection mission and (will) strengthen DHS management oversight,' Mocny testified. 'The placement of U.S. Visit into this new directorate recognizes that U.S. Visit plays a crucial role in the protection and prevention of attacks on our nation's critical infrastructure.'

U.S. Visit has been criticized recently by the Government Accountability Office and DHS Inspector General. For example, the GAO reported last week that U.S. Visit has not provided adequate information to Congress to allow for effective oversight. However, Mocny asserted that the program is a success.

'DHS deployed U.S. Visit on time, within budget, and has met the legislative requirements to date, as well as incorporating biometrics (finger scans and digital photographs) into U.S. Visit,' Mocny said at the hearing. 'In each of the incremental improvements that have been successfully deployed to date, all of the four U.S. Visit goals have been met.' However, he did acknowledge that U.S. Visit has not met Congress' requirement for establishing an exit program to date.

The next improvement is the scheduled deployment of the 10-fingerprint system for U.S Visit to coordinate with FBI fingerprinting programs. U.S. Visit currently uses only two fingerprints.

The department deployed an interim data-sharing model in September 2006 that is the first step toward creating a new interoperable environment between U.S. Visit and the FBI fingerprint system, Mocny said.

During the next phase, the State Department and DHS will begin to collect 10 prints, and DHS and the FBI will establish an infrastructure for exchanging information and search capabilities. The initial capability is expected to be complete in 2008, Mocny testified.

Full operating capability will include full information sharing, high performance searches of biometric data in both U.S. Visit and FBI fingerprint databases, increased match performance appropriate to the increased volumes and more comprehensive biographic and case data sharing, Mocny said. The information sharing will be subject to controlling law and policy.

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer for Government Computer News' affiliate publication, Washington Technology.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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