State, DHS urged to better integrate travel systems

The departments of Homeland Security and State should better integrate their information technology systems that handle international business travel to foster greater efficiency and fewer errors in processing, according to a new report from a DHS travel advisory panel.

The Secure Borders and Open Doors Advisory Committee issued a 51-page study urging the United States to be more welcoming to foreign travelers while also maintaining security. The group aims to reverse a downward trend in overseas travel to the United States. Such travel fell by 17 percent between 2000 and 2006.

Agencies often hire contractors to improve IT systems, Web sites and videoconferencing, all elements that the committee's report touched on.

One of the reasons for the decrease in foreign visitors was difficulty and delays in obtaining visas, the advisory group said. To improve things, one recommendation is for DHS and State to work together better and to set up an integrated electronic file and a joint program for business visa applicants.

To date, the Customs and Immigration Service has not developed an Internet-based system for business travelers applying for visas that can be linked to State's electronic visa application system, the report said.

"The lack of connectivity prevents development of a joint business traveler facilitation program analogous to Customs and Border Protection's Customs-
Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, a useful shipper facilitation and security program.

Security checks outside of the control of State can be unnecessary or drag on unnecessarily for months," the advisory report said.

The departments should establish a joint Business Process Task Force to set standards for a single enterprise file on businesses that seek to sponsor travel and immigration and/or move goods across U.S. borders.

Among the panel's other recommendations:
  • The departments should create a voluntary Business Movement Service and Security Partnership to facilitate movement of workers and goods.
  • They should improve the coordination of their redress systems for applicants denied visas.
  • They should create and maintain performance measures that can be statistically tracked to record their visa and travel processing activities over time. Ideally, those metrics should be standardized with international systems so that foreign travelers can accurately compare, for example, border crossing wait times or visa adjudication times among countries.
  • State should set a higher priority on Internet communication to visa applicants by standardizing Web sites at the world consular offices. Currently, those offices maintain dozens of different Web sites and offer inconsistent information, the report said.
  • DHS should test videoconferencing as a means of increasing access for foreign visa applicants to the United States. Currently, those applicants often must travel hundreds of miles to do a personal interview with a consular officer.

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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