U.S.-VISIT needs stronger management controls: GAO

The Homeland Security Department's U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program is top-heavy in management costs but shows a persistent pattern of management shortcomings, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

The 167-page report reviews progress on the U.S.-VISIT program, which collects and validates biometric information from incoming visitors to the United States.

The GAO report describes a "longstanding lack of strategic direction and management controls" affecting the U.S.-VISIT program, including lack of justification for high management costs and failure to plan and implement exit controls.

U.S.-VISIT program management costs in 2006 constituted 135 percent of planned development costs for new capabilities, GAO said. Similarly, in the fiscal 2007 expenditure plan, U.S.-VISIT officials proposed spending $1.25 on management-related activities for each dollar invested in new development.

"The plan does not explain the reasons for the sizable investment in management-related activities or otherwise justify it on the basis of measurable expected value," GAO said. "Without disclosing and justifying its proposed investment and program management-related efforts, it is unclear that such a large amount of funding for these activities represents the best use of resources."

The report also criticizes U.S.-VISIT for not implementing an exit control program, despite requests from Congress to do so. To date, DHS has produced only a partial plan for an exit solution at airports, and no plans for exit control at land and sea border ports, GAO said. "Lack of a well-defined and justified exit solution introduces the risk of repeating failed and costly past exit efforts," the report said.

The report said U.S.-VISIT has not fulfilled completely GAO's previous recommendations, including advice to close gaps in information technology security controls and to implement management controls.

On the upside, DHS' U.S.-VISIT prime contract is meeting cost and schedule benchmarks, the GAO said. Nonetheless, GAO said the most recent expenditure plan for U.S.-VISIT" did not provide a sufficient basis for effective program oversight and accountability."

DHS officials, in their response, concurred with most of the GAO observations and recommendations.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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