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GAO: Technology Gaps Jeopardize U.S. Visa Entry System

Incomplete biometric identification is among the gaps the DHS needs to fill to secure the US-VISIT foreign visitors system.

Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
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An incomplete biometric system is one of the gaps jeopardizing the security of the U.S. visa entry system, according to a government watchdog agency.

The Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit (CTCEU) is in charge of enforcing laws that govern foreigners who overstay their time in the country. To help in this endeavor, the DHS has deployed a biometric-based identification system called US-VISIT to keep track of foreign nationals when they enter and leave the country.

Though the system is operating in ports of entry when people enter the country, it's not fully operational when they leave, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report is based on testimony made by Richard M. Stana, director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues for the GAO, before the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security of the House of Representatives' Committee on Homeland Security.

Without this system fully in place, the DHS is relying on biographical data it has on foreign nationals to identify people who have overstayed their visas. However, "unreliable data hinder DHS's efforts to accurately identify overstays," said Stana.

The report noted that weaknesses in DHS processes for collecting departure data are making it difficult for the government to determine overstay rates.

Moreover, the DHS still has yet to define, plan, or justify biometric and other features of its US-VISIT exit projects on the basis of costs, benefits, and risks, despite a proposal to spend tens of millions of dollars on them, Stana testified.

"We concluded that, without a master schedule that was integrated and derived in accordance with relevant guidance, DHS could not reliably commit to when and how it would deliver a comprehensive exit solution or adequately monitor and manage its progress toward this end," said the report.

The DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

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