DHS Border Biometrics Efforts are Behind
Published: January 27, 2016
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to face long-standing challenges in developing a biometric exit system for United States ports of entry/exit and on reporting reliable overstay data, according to the department’s inspector general (IG).
Each year, millions of visitors legally come to the U.S. on a temporary basis. Some individuals who were admitted legally on a temporary basis but then overstayed their authorized periods are referred to as “overstays.” The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 required the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop a plan to accelerate implementation of a biometric entry and exit data system that matches information provided by foreign nationals upon their arrival and departure.
In recent testimony before a Senate subcommittee, the department’s IG acknowledged that the DHS’s challenges in developing a biometric exit system, as well as weaknesses in departure data, have affected the reliability of their data on overstays, resulting in them not regularly reporting annual overstay data to Congress since 1994.
Since December 2006, a biometric entry capability has been fully operational at all ports of entry and GAO recognized progress made by several efforts, including US-VISIT, the Automated Biometric Identification System, and the Arrival and Departure Information System (ADIS). However, GAO identified a range of challenges that DHS has faced in its efforts to deploy a corresponding biometric exit capability, even with pilot programs and technology experimentation partnership effort between the department’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is primarily responsible for implementing a biometric exit program.
In 2012, DHS’s S&T reported on their internal study of existing technologies and concluded that the building blocks to implement an effective biometric air exit system were available. S&T recommended that DHS take the following actions:
- Develop explicit goals and objectives for biometric air exit,
- Leverage improvements in passenger facilitation and biometric technology to support a concept of operations,
- Use developmental scenario testing instead of pilot programs to validate a concept of operations,
- Establish collaborative relationships with airports and airlines,
- Use operational tests to validate performance and cost estimates,
- Develop an evaluation framework for biometric air exit,
- Employ a holistic approach to assess the costs and benefits of comprehensive biometric entry and exit processes,
- Determine whether biometric air exit is economically justified, and
- Incrementally deploy biometric air exit to airports where it is cost-effective to do so.
In July 2013, GAO reported that DHS had As of January 2016, DHS has planning efforts underway but has not yet fulfilled statutory requirements to implement a biometric exit capability and report data on overstays. Nor have they yet fully addressed the May 2012 S&T report recommendations.
DHS has cited various challenges in making progress in developing and implementing a biometric exit system, including difficulty in coordinating with airlines and airports and concerns with potential costs and insufficient funding. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 (a.k.a. Two-year Bipartisan Budget Agreement (BBA) passed last month), provides a mechanism for additional funding to implement a biometric entry and exit system of up to $1 billion through temporary fee increases for certain visa applicants.
The Act also directed DHS to provide to Congress within 30 days of enactment a report on nonimmigrant overstay data by country and a comprehensive plan for implementation of the biometric entry and exit data system, both of which are already required by law. To provide further incentive, the Act withheld $13 million from the Office of the Secretary and Executive Management until DHS provides the overstay report and comprehensive plan.