U.S. Visit to submit recommendations for land exit system

Wednesday - 12/17/2008, 8:24pm EST

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
FederalNewsRadio

The Homeland Security Department's U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program will submit two reports by Dec. 31 detailing its way forward.

Robert Mocny, director of U.S. Visit, says his office will provide Congress with an expenditure plan for fiscal 2009.

Mocny also will give DHS secretary Michael Chertoff and President-elect Barack Obama a report recommending how they move forward with the land exit portion of U.S. Visit.

"There is no infrastructure for an exit system," Mocny says. "There is an infrastructure for cars entering, but not for exiting. We will have to deal with larger ports of entry and different technology involved. The vast majority of land borders are small-maybe 1-to-4 lanes. The solution is different for small ports than large ones."

DHS has come under pressure from Congress about the lack of an exit system. U.S. Visit already deployed an entry system to more than 300 air, land and sea ports across the country, but only conducted one pilot of an exit system.

The department issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking in April requiring the airlines to collect the biometric data and run the exit system. But Congress intervened, and now DHS and the airlines must run pilot programs this year for the airport exit system.

"We are working with the Air Transportation Association to identify willing airlines," Mocny says. "We want to understand the perimeters and what is expected. We are waiting to the end of year for them to tell us which airlines want to volunteer or what's the best way to proceed."

The Customs and Border Protection directorate will run one set of pilots at the same time the airlines run their pilots.

Mocny says for CBP it's a matter of getting mobile devices for customs agents or kiosks set up.

"We would like to run them for 45 days or so to make sure we are getting good reads and the processes are understood by everyone," Mocny says. "We don't know where the tests will occur. We want to work with the Government Accountability Office on what's the best way to select these airports and what evaluation criteria we should be looking at."

He says DHS may do more than two airports and they may be large and small ones.

The land exit pilots are more up in the air. CBP runs 165 land exits that range from one or two lanes to more than 30 lanes, and the weather runs from desert to extreme cold.

Mocny says he will wait until the Obama administration reviews their recommendations on how to test the land exit system.

"We've had several briefings with the transition team and they are aware of the program and its challenges," he says. "They are very knowledgeable about what we do and how we do it so it will not take long for decisions to be made."

Mocny says the other report is how DHS will spend more than $300 million in 2009. Congress requires an annual expenditure plan and must approve it before releasing about $75 million.

GAO issued a report Dec. 12 saying U.S. Visit's expenditure plan was missing some key information.

Mocny says U.S. Visit has since fixed many of GAO's concerns. He adds he expects Congress to approve the plan in early 2009 and release its hold on the $75 million.

"The report is in the clearance process," he says. "We have improved the processes and have all letters from the CXOs who sign off on the plan, and more details."

One of GAO's concerns was that the chief information officer, chief acquisition officer and chief human capital officer had not approved the 2009 plan.

In fact, Mocny says the agency's investment review board met last month and approved U.S. Visit's plan to move forward in 2009.

DHS also plans on expanding who is covered under U.S.-Visit. Mocny says a final rule is expected in the next week or so detailing the process by which legal resident aliens and refugees would be processed by U.S. Visit. Mocny says the rule is not finalized yet.

One source who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the rule, says it could be out by Friday in the Federal Register.

"We have a robust program that is known worldwide and seen by many as fairly successful overall," Mocny says.

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On the Web:

FederalNewsRadio - DHS begins work on land border exit system

Homeland Security Department - DHS advanced notice of proposed rulemaking for U.S. Visit exit system for airlines and sea ports

GAO - U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program planning and execution improvements needed

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Tags: management