By Chris Strohm
January 25, 2006The Homeland Security Department has yet to complete a strategic plan and key cost-benefit analyses for the nation's visitor tracking system, despite having spent $1.4 billion on the effort, a Government Accountability Office official told lawmakers Wednesday.
The department has met challenging goals and timelines for the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, said Randolph Hite, GAO's director of information technology architecture and systems issues. But DHS lacks a final plan showing how the program, which has been the centerpiece of the government's border security push, will be integrated with other immigration and security initiatives, he said.
Jim Williams, the program's manager, told members of the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee that a strategic plan has been submitted to the department for approval and that he has had discussions about it with senior staff. He did not provide an estimate on when the plan is likely to be approved.
The program's return on investment also has yet to be determined, Hite testified before the subcommittee. DHS has not finished and implemented key acquisition controls, he said.
"Prudent investment . . . requires that an agency have reasonable assurance that a proposed program will produce mission value commensurate with expected costs and risks," Hite said. "Thus far, DHS has yet to develop an adequate basis for knowing that this is the case for its early US-VISIT increments. Without this knowledge, it cannot adequately ensure that these increments are justified."
US VISIT officials are working to more reliably estimate the costs of future stages of the program, which is happening in increments, Hite said.
"Strengthening the program's cost-estimating capability is extremely important," he said. "The absence of reliable cost estimates impedes, among other things, both the development of reliable economic justification for program decisions and the effective measurement of performance."
US VISIT is aimed at checking visitors' biometric and biographic information against terrorist and criminal watchlists, and is operating at 115 airports, 14 seaports and 154 land ports of entry, as well as at U.S. consulates abroad.
More than 47 million visitors have been screened to date, resulting in the identification of more than 1,000 people with criminal records, Williams said. He added that "thousands more" have been denied visas at consulates abroad because their names came up on watch lists.
"The program is a critical component of DHS' strategies to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and facilitate the movement of legitimate travel and trade," Williams told the subcommittee.
By Chris Strohm
January 25, 2006