Rep. Davis launches U.S. Visit probe

The Homeland Security Department's border systems modernization is receiving renewed congressional scrutiny just as the agency is seeking proposals for the massive overhaul.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, sent letters last month to Secretary of State Colin Powell and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge asking for detailed information about the project to build the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator System.

In a statement released today by the committee, Davis said U.S. Visit represents an "unprecedented task of collecting, storing and accurately accessing vast quantities of biometric records."

Besides specifics about the project's IT plans, Davis also wants to know about coordination between the departments of State and Homeland Security, and whether U.S. Visit has the potential to hinder commerce and tourism.

Through the project, DHS wants a system that can gather entry and exit information about foreign visitors, monitor each visitor's status and check against the government's terrorist watch lists.

The request for proposals for what could be a $10 billion project was released Friday. Congress has allocated $330 million for the project in fiscal 2004. Bidders are expected to be Accenture Ltd., Computer Sciences Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. An award is expected in May.

The U.S. Visit contractor will face the task of building a virtual border system based largely on 19 existing IT systems, many of which contain the same or similar data.

In his letter to Ridge, Davis said: "It is my understanding that the initial iteration of the program will essentially be an integration of the Interagency Border Inspection System and INS Automated Biometric Identification systems currently in use ? Given the earlier problems with these programs, provide an explanation as to what steps are being taken to ensure that these systems have been improved so as to meet the needs of the new program."

Davis asked for responses to his questions by Dec. 8.

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