DHS lacks timetable for monitoring visitor departures

Exit tracking component of US VISIT “not ready for prime time yet,” program official says.

There is no estimate yet for when a Homeland Security Department program to track visitors to the United States will be able to verify departures, one of the program's managers said Thursday.

Robert Mocny, deputy director for US VISIT, said officials are slowly and deliberately tailoring the program to meet DHS' needs, but the exit tracking component is "not ready for prime time yet." The program was established three years ago but so far only keeps tabs on entries.

Mocny spoke about the effort in an address at the Border Trade Alliance regional conference in Washington. Trade officials expressed concerns Thursday that implementing an inefficient version of US VISIT to verify departures could cause delays at airports, further hindering the travel industry.

But that argument is unlikely to sit well with lawmakers. At a recent hearing, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, pledged to review the department's management of US VISIT.

At the conference Thursday, Mocny mentioned the possibility of using radio frequency identification technology for US VISIT's exit component. Visitors passing through border tolls could then swipe an RFID chip to confirm their departure, he said.

There's a possibility US VISIT will move away from using identification cards entirely, Mocny said. "If your finger can be your card, why not?" he asked conference attendees. "You can create a fake card."

Initially, US VISIT's biometric components were going to be isolated from other departmental work, according to Mocny. But the program has turned into a "technology hub," he said, providing identity services for the entire department, including the Transportation Security Administration, Coast Guard, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau.

Meanwhile, addressing a separate identification issue, Kathy Kraninger, director of DHS' Office of Screening and Coordination, told trade representatives that some of the department's processes and background checks for international truckers are "duplicative." She said the procedures were necessary, especially for security purposes, but DHS continues to refine its procedural guidelines.

"Where we are now is not where we want to be long term," she said.