Border bill promises high tech

$3.2 billion legislation calls for biometrics, info-sharing <@VM>INS breakup no trouble for IT<@VM>High tech for tighter borders, security

Lights, fences and barren land create an eerie no-man's land between Tijuana, Mexico, and the United States.

Cars wait for hours to enter the United States from Mexico at the San Ysidro, Calif., border crossing in September 2001.

Senate and House lawmakers are nearing agreement on new border security legislation that would dramatically increase funding for information technology solutions that help track the movements of aliens and citizens across U.S. borders.

The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, approved April 18 by the Senate, is expected to receive quick approval from the House when it votes on the Senate version, perhaps as early as the week of May 6.

Although much of the $3.2 billion allocated by the bill will go to hiring more border patrol and Immigration and Naturalization Service personnel, the legislation also calls for heavy investment in IT systems and advanced technologies.

Of particular note is the $150 million the U.S. Customs Service and INS each will receive to improve their border security technologies, including beefing up infrastructure support, computer security and IT development. Money also will be devoted to "expanding, utilizing and improving technology to improve border security; and facilitating the flow of commerce at ports of entry, including improving and expanding programs for pre-enrollment and pre-clearance," according to the Senate bill.

Major provisions would require development of an integrated entry and exit data system for ports of entry, as well as an interoperable law enforcement and intelligence data system to provide the INS and State Department with more information from criminal agencies.

In addition, the bill calls for the creation of biometrics-based passports for U.S. citizens and for a system that would allow the INS to check student foreign visas against attendance in schools.

"This bill will provide more resources for systems already being developed, but it allows them to be rolled out faster, in two years rather than five," said Doug Doan, senior vice president for New Technology Management Inc., Reston, Va., a company that provides border patrol integration services to Customs.

Primary sponsors of the Senate bill, S. 1749, are Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.; Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.; and Sam Brownback, R-Kan. A House version of the bill, H.R. 3525, was sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and approved by the House in December.

Systems integrator CACI International Inc. is interested in pursing an information-sharing network between relevant agencies, said Jack London, president and chief executive officer of the Arlington, Va., company.

"We would be a main player, because one of our lines of business is special purpose networks: managing and designing, architecting, implementing and designing and then managing those networks. So that would be a perfect application area for which we would have a very strong offering," he said.

In late April, CACI was chosen by Science Applications International Corp., San Diego, to support the communications network of the Defense Information Systems Agency as part of SAIC's Defense Information System Network Global Solutions contract. CACI's subcontract is valued at up to $500 million over nine years.

Also in April, the company won a five-year $31.5 million contract to help secure information systems throughout the Customs Service.

SI International Inc., McLean, Va., also is "closely following this legislation," said company spokesperson Alan Hill. The company has done previous visa work through the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, for which it centralized the office's immigrant application processing.

The company also teamed with Computer Sciences Corp., El Segundo, Calif., for a seven-year, $31 million task order awarded in March to provide INS with a new system to verify the immigration status of non-U.S. citizens applying for federal, state and local benefits.

NTMI also views the bill as an opportunity to expand the work it has been doing, in this case for Customs, for which it has already undertaken $47 million in services thus far.

"The good news for Customs is that solutions for border patrol are already being deployed and tested," Hill said.

NTMI, for example, has completed systems that provide information to border workers at more than 200 ports of entry and has unrolled a next-generation border patrol system in seven locations in Arizona, which it is expanding to other states. This advanced system incorporates video surveillance of everyone passing through the port entries, digital records of all cars entering and leaving the United States, and knowledge management-based targeting systems that "concentrate attention to the most likely threats" using criminal data from the FBI, INS, local law enforcements and even the Mexican government, Doan said.

The company also set up a command center that oversees all seven posts. On Sept. 11, Arizona was able to shut down these seven ports of entry automatically using this system, far more quickly than other ports of entry were closed, Doan said.

"We're already in the field with these technologies," said Doan, adding that if other integrators want to compete for the work "they will have to catch up with us."

Another company planning to leverage existing systems is Entrust Inc., Addison, Texas. In 1997, the company partnered with the Georgia Technology Institute, the nonprofit applied research arm of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, to implement a data-sharing network between law enforcement agencies in California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.

Called the Southwest Border Antidrug Information System, the Defense Information Systems Agency-funded network connects local law enforcement officers with information from the FBI and other agencies. Although it was built to fight drug trafficking, it has since been expanded to include money laundering and other criminal activities.

"One of the pieces that is not connected is INS," said William Conner, Entrust president and chief executive officer. He said the system could be easily expanded to meet the requirements of the Border Security bill, and that Entrust will bid on the work as a prime or partner with integrators.

Other software manufacturers also expect to see an increase in sales from the bill's passage. Iain Drummond, president and chief executive officer of Vancouver, Canada-based Imagis Technologies Inc., a manufacturer of a biometric software tool kit, said the bill could boost company sales, reported in 2001 at $2 million, by 2 percent to 3 percent.

The new legislation gives the administration authority to decide how to allocate large portions of the funding. The bill, for example, calls for "machine-readable, tamper-resistant travel documents issued to aliens that use standardized biometric identifiers," as well as for biometric-reading equipment to be installed at all ports of entry by Oct. 26, 2003.

The cost for a nationwide system to issue and check biometrics cards wasn't specified in the bill, and it could vary greatly, said Shane Ham, a senior policy analyst for the Progressive Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank funded by the Democratic Leadership Council, which backs the new bill.

"So much of it depends on exactly the kind of system they roll out. It doesn't only depend on the biometric used, whether it's a fingerprint, hand geometry or iris scan, but also on the media used ? a smart chip, or the optical cards INS is already using ? and what kind of back-end database they will use," Ham said.

The attorney general and the State Department must submit a report to Congress within 180 days of the bill's enactment that would include the costs for implementing the system.

Staff Writer Joab Jackson can be reached at late April, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill that would split the Immigration and Nationalization Service into two separate organizations: one responsible for border enforcement and the other for handling immigration applications, with both overseen by the Justice Department.

By splitting the agency into two parts, the Barbara Jordan Immigration Reform and Accountability Act of 2002, H.R. 3231, aims to establish clearer chains of command to reduce application backlogs and tighten the security loopholes that could let in potential terrorists.

Would this split undermine opportunities for integrators and information technology providers that are gunning for INS modernization contracts? Not likely, said Chris Rooney, president of the government solutions unit of AT&T Corp., New York. The company is bidding on the INS' $380 million Entry-Exit Tracking System, due to be awarded in October.

"Our thinking all along is to put together a solution that has enough flexibility to implement it wherever we are directed to do so," Rooney said. "Our real duty in industry is to support the mission, whatever organizational structure that Congress would see fit to put in place."

William Conner, president and chief executive officer of Entrust Inc., Addison, Texas, has a similar view. His company, a public key infrastructure solution provider, is eyeing opportunities generated by the proposed Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act.

"We're pretty much department agnostic," he said.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent monitors cameras in the Swanton, Vt., sector headquarters in July 2000.

The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act includes many provisions requiring high-tech solutions:

  • Creating a data system for agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the State Department and law enforcement agencies investigating aliens. The system will allow agents access to law enforcement and intelligence information.

  • Equipment to issue tamper-resistant, machine-readable, biometric-based visas, passports and other travel documents to citizens.

  • A visa waiver program that would require participating countries to issue tamper-resistant, machine-readable biometric travel documents.

  • A database that compiles the identification numbers of stolen passports.

  • A requirement for all commercial flights and vessels coming to the United States from international ports to provide, by electronic means, manifest information about passengers and crews.

  • Reform of the student visa process that strengthens the exchange of information between the attorney general's office and schools over student visas, including the requirement that schools notify the INS if a student has not reported within 30 days of the beginning of an academic term.

Source: Office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above.

What is your e-mail address?

My e-mail address is:

Do you have a password?

Forgot your password? Click here

Washington Technology Daily

Sign up for our newsletter.

Terms and Privacy Policy consent

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.


contracts DB