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GAO report finds slow progress to biometric exit system


The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is advising the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in a new report to reveal a new time frame for implementing a biometric exit system at U.S. airports.

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 explicitly required the accelerated development of an automated biometric entry and exit data system. While the DHS made progress on the entry portion of the entry-exit system, the exit portion was never implemented.

Congress repeated its demand for a biometric exit system in 2007, setting a deadline of 2009. That deadline came and went with only two small pilot programs.

Slow movement towards meeting these multiple legislative requirements has been called “a long-standing challenge for DHS” by the GAO. Repeatedly since that then, the GAO has called on DHS to fast-track the development of the exit system.

GAO also noted in its report that DHS should also evaluate the reliability of its data on overstays.

The oversight agency found that as of January 2016, DHS has not yet reported overstay data or documented its reliability, and DHS officials could not provide a time frame for when they would address the GAO’s previous recommendation for improving the system.

The GAO report ultimately continues to find that DHS had not fulfilled statutory requirements to implement a biometric exit capability and report data on overstays.

The report states: “As of January 2016, DHS has planning efforts underway but has not yet met statutory requirements. Specifically, in May 2012, DHS internally reported recommendations to support planning for a biometric exit capability at airports. However, as of January 2016, the department has not yet fully addressed those recommendations. For example, DHS has not completed an evaluation framework that, among other things, assesses the value of collecting biometric data in addition to biographic data, as it recommended in May 2012. In July 2013, GAO recommended that DHS establish time frames and milestones for a biometric air exit evaluation framework to help guide its assessment efforts. DHS concurred with the recommendation, and has actions planned or underway to address it. Specifically, in January 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials stated that they were continuing to develop an evaluation framework by developing metrics for measuring the performance and effectiveness of biometric air exit technologies.”

The report ultimately recommends what the GAO recommended in the past: “GAO previously made recommendations to DHS to establish time frames and milestones for a biometric air exit evaluation framework and assess the reliability of its overstay data. DHS concurred with the recommendations, and has actions underway to address them.”

DHS’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection is primarily responsible for implementing the U.S. biometric entry-exit program, while the GAO is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress and investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars.

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